Californians are bewildered by sustained chronic absenteeism among public school students. In January of 2023, over 27,000 out of the 98,000, or 28% of students enrolled in San Diego Unified, were considered chronically absent in California’s second-largest school district. This represents a sudden, staggering increase from pre-2020 levels, which were relatively stable, going back years, at around 10-12% of the student population. The lockdown and illness era are in the rearview mirror, yet students continue to stay home in significant numbers regularly.
Popular explanations point to RSV, COVID, and flu outbreaks. However, a few simple data points undermine that as a primary cause of this phenomenon. For example, Asian American students experience comparatively low levels of chronic absenteeism at around 11.4% of the statewide makeup, whereas 42.5% of African American students were chronically absent last year. Diseases do not discriminate based on one’s race, so other factors must be at play.
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