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Why chronic absenteeism is rising in schools and Delaware’s response

Absenteeism is higher in Delaware than before the pandemic, but the rising rates have leveled off.
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Absenteeism is higher in Delaware than before the pandemic, but the rising rates have leveled off.

It’s been four years since the COVID-19 pandemic first started, keeping students out of the classroom and learning online for some time.

But even when students returned to in-person learning, it appears attitudes about going to school every day had changed; chronic absenteeism in the U.S. has spiked, nearly doubling since 2020.

This week, Delaware Public Media’s Kyle McKinnon spoke with ProPublica reporter Alec MacGillis – who recently wrote about absenteeism – and Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Holodick for more on chronic absenteeism and how Delaware is addressing it.


Chronic absenteeism rose nationwide during the pandemic, nearly doubling, but the rising rates in Delaware have leveled off.

In the First State, those levels are now dropping and getting closer to pre-pandemic levels, according to state education officials.

However, Education Secretary Mark Holodick says the goal should be to address things that contribute to chronic absenteeism in the first place, like social determinants of health.

“The best way we can continue to bring our chronic absentee numbers down and simultaneously increase attendance in our schools is to one, have a team working on this and paying attention to it, and then two, using data and strategies to pull kids in," Holodick says.

Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Holodick breaks down how the First State is addressing absenteeism

Those strategies tend to work better with younger students, Holodick says, since high school students are more likely to disengage as they near adulthood.

And he adds a new challenge is how “normalized” absenteeism is now, especially for parents and caregivers working remotely.

“And with more parents and caregivers who are working remotely, students staying home doesn't create the kind of burden that it necessarily did pre-pandemic," Holodick says.

But personalizing approaches to absenteeism and creating a team or community around the student seems to be one way the First State is succeeding.

ProPublica reporter Alec MacGillis explains rising absenteeism rates across the U.S.

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Kyle McKinnon is the Senior Producer for The Green with a passion for storytelling and connecting with people.