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Friday, November 12, 2021

Almost Half of Cleveland Public School Students Have Been Chronically Absent This School Year

Posted By on Fri, Nov 12, 2021 at 9:46 AM

click to enlarge 47% of CMSD students have been chronically absent this year - JOEWOLF/FLICKRCC
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  • 47% of CMSD students have been chronically absent this year

Forty seven percent of Cleveland public school students were chronically absent — missing 10% or more days — in the first seven weeks of the 2021-2022 school year, according to the district.

“We’re seeing larger numbers of that by kids who already had a larger COVID impact than a lot of their more wealthy peers,” CMSD CEO Eric Gordon told The 74. “Yeah, I’m concerned.”

After a virtual year of learning in which more than 8,000 of its students either never showed up, never enrolled, or moved to private schools, a return to in-person classes has seen a staggering rate of abseentism — more than double its recent pre-pandemic numbers — driven by a few factors, according to Gordon and the Cleveland teachers union.

A poll of CMSD students on the subject of abseentism found 21% said stress was the cause of missing school, 18% blamed lack of support, 16% were concerned about catching Covid, and 11% said they were unmotivated or lazy.

“Going back to school five days a week seems to be difficult for some of our students,” Cleveland teachers union president Shari Obrenski told The 74. “They were out for a period of time. It’s going to take a while to get a level of stamina where kids are used to being in school five days a week.”

While chronic abseentism was up in 2020-2021 across the state, rates were higher for schools that did virtual learning as opposed to in-person classes and significantly higher for minority students and those dealing with poverty (38%) than others (11%).

The achievement gap also grew along the same divisions, with those doing all-virtual learning falling further than those in classrooms, and minorities, students with disabilities, and poor students falling further behind than their counterparts, according to statewide data released in October.

“We also know that some of the decreases were more pronounced in districts that were primarily in remote status last year," Chris Woolard of the Ohio Department of Education told the Statehouse News Bureau. "So we look at the numbers that are definitely down and not surprisingly, it didn't sort of impact everybody the same. [And] as is the typical pattern for chronic absenteeism, Ohio’s historically underserved and vulnerable students, and students in urban areas, experienced higher rates of chronic absenteeism than their peers."

Chronically absent students have lower tests scsores in reading and math and are 30% less likely to graduate in Cleveland, Gordon told The 74.

Districts around the country and in Northeast Ohio have also seen a rise in behavioral issues, mainly fighting, in schools that were virtual and have since returned to regular classes.

Bedford High School is in the midst of a one-month return to virtual schooling after violence and fights drove the school boad to take action.

“Obviously, none of this is ideal,” Bedford schools superintendent Dr. Andrea Celico said in a statement. “As we’ve said, the decision to return temporarily to remote learning for high school students wasn’t easy and it wasn’t made lightly. However, we have to address safety issues. We want our students to feel safe so they can concentrate on learning and we want our teachers and staff to feel secure so they can do their best work too. [Students] are adjusting and many of them are struggling. We’ll also be emphasizing our social emotional programs even more when students return to the building to try to help those who are having a hard time.”

In Akron, schools superintendent Christone Fowler Mack recently sent a letter home to each family discussing the behavioral issues that have become an issue this year and the ways in which the district is using restorative justice, new safety measures and accountability to address them.

"We know with certainty that the poor choices of a few can impact the learning of many, and can even pose a threat to the safety (of) those who are making good choices. For this reason, we must work together to remind all students that those who violate our code of conduct face serious consequences including suspension or expulsion, or in some cases, the possibility of criminal charges, it read. "While the pandemic has taken an emotional toll on all of us, it's important to note that its impact is more severe for those who were already the must vulnerable among us. For this reason, I urge empathy in our actions and in our reactions to the behaviors of others."

Speaking to the Beacon Journal, Akron schools' student support and security director Dam Rambler said that "smaller incidents, from students being disruptive in class to having short tempers that lead to arguments and fights" has been an issue.

"People go from zero to 50 in the quickest blink for the littlest things," he said.

In the September State of the Schools address, CMSD CEO Eric Gordon highlighted the many ways the district stepped up for its disadvantaged students and families during the pandemic.

Quoting Noam Chomsky, Gordon talked about the privileged few and desperate many, and how the pandemic forced "the privileged few to confront the stark realities of many poor Americans, including those living here in Cleveland."

In the city with the highest rate of child povery in the nation and one of the largest digital divides, "CMSD and our many community partners became lifelines to our families. They worked tirelessly to reach those who not only were cut off from such supports, but who needed them more than anyone. We printed and mailed academic content to our students’ homes, broadcasted  lessons on WUAB-Channel 43, purchased and deployed iPads, Chromebooks and laptops, distributed hotspots to the homes of every CMSD family, and began the process of converting those hotspots to permanent high-speed Internet access as well."

It will use ARPA funds to continue to make progress on closing the digital divide for its students. It will continue to offer before and after school opportunities for students who fell behind to catch up.

But getting kids who have been missing days back into the classroom is a short-term problem that has him worried.

“The pattern is looking more like last year than it looked like pre-COVID,” he told The 74. “We’re seeing lots more students with off-track behavior.”

Gordon's State of the Schools address is below.

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