Brenda Zamora’s daughter has missed several weeks of school this year after having surgery, contracting COVID-19 and being in a major car accident.
She’s an immunocompromised child going to school during a pandemic, so Zamora said it’s sometimes easier to keep her home than to worry about spreading viruses to others in the school community.
“I think about them and their situation and things that they just have no control about,” the mother said. “It’s not their fault. It’s nobody’s fault.”
Zamora, who is running for a seat on the school board, shared her daughter’s experiences Thursday as the Clark County School District received a report on chronic absenteeism throughout the district.
Chronically absent students are defined by the state as those who are absent for 10 percent or more of their enrolled days.
As of March, 39 percent of students had been chronically absent, according to numbers from the district. The district has seen chronic absenteeism increase this year among nearly all of its student demographic groups, with the exception of African American students, who already had a high rate of absenteeism.
Those numbers track across the state and country, said John Anzalone, district assistant superintendent.
But while Washoe County reported a higher rate of chronic absenteeism than Clark County for the 2020-2021 school year, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest school district in the country, had an absenteeism rate nearly half that of CCSD, according to district numbers.
Anzalone said officials know that the district continues to experience the aftermath of distance education.
Kamilah Bywaters, president of the Las Vegas Alliance of Black School Educators, called attention to the high rates of absenteeism among students of color and asked for the district to evaluate whether its programs targeting absenteeism were working.
Black students in particular often feel alienated at school, feel like they don’t have a voice in their education, and struggle to relate to predominantly white teachers, Bywaters said.
“I would hope that we’re incorporating culturally responsive pedagogies as well into our practices so that we can encourage our students to come to school so they can value themselves by seeing themselves in the curriculum,” she said.
To combat chronic absenteeism, the district said it is working to identify why students are missing school, using outside partners to address the problem and increasing connectedness on school campuses.
The district also began holding focus groups with students in April to gauge ways to improve student attendance. Anzalone said students have asked for more positive reinforcements during the school day, like more engaging lessons and someone to welcome and greet them when they arrive on campus.
Jacob Drum, a student at Green Valley High School, also asked for more incentives for students to come to class. Drum said the Green Valley tardy policy gives students a detention and notifies their parents the first and second time they are late to class.
“If you go to school and you’re five minutes late, am I going to go to class, or sit in my car and get that absence excused?” Drum questioned. “I just believe that we should create a structure where a rational human being would want to pursue an education rather than not go to class.”
But Zamora said students like her daughter could be negatively affected by incentives or rewards for perfect attendance.
“I don’t like this idea of ‘You get a certificate for being perfect,’” Zamora said. “That’s not what reality is.”
Clark County School District teacher Autumn Tampa said chronic absenteeism was a problem even before the pandemic. Services like child care were cut after the Great Recession, and many students often have to stay home to take care of a sick grandparent or younger sibling, she said.
Tampa questioned whether the district’s numbers were skewed because of COVID-19 and criticized what she called a nationwide problem, where students and adults who are sick feel pressure to still show up for school or work.
“I don’t want sick children coming to school. They get me sick,” Tampa said. “There should be a focus of getting kids who are not sick into school, but not making kids who are sick come to school so numbers are up.”
Contact Lorraine Longhi at 480-243-4086 or email@example.com. Follow @lolonghi on Twitter.