Why Marion School District’s Truancy Rates Have Soared

With reports of increased chronic absence rates in Ohio school districts during the COVID-19 pandemic, Marion County has also seen a sharp increase in absenteeism over the past two years.

According to data from the Ohio Department of Education, one in four K-12 students missed at least 10% of the school year in 2020-21 and one in 10 missed more than 20% .

Research has shown that school absences can be linked to a variety of causes, including student-, family-, school-, and community-specific factors.

Voices from several Marion districts all point to a major factor as to why they believe absenteeism rates have risen sharply: remote learning as a result of the pandemic.

According to the Ohio Department of Education database, in Marion County, every public district saw its absentee rate increase at least twice as much between the 2019-20 school year and the year 2020-2021.

In the case of Marion’s largest district, Marion City Schools, the database shows an increase from 20.7% to 47.7%, reflecting numbers from the worst of the pandemic.

Small rural districts were also affected. The Ohio Department of Education database shows that Ridgedale saw an increase of 5% to 29% during this time and Pleasant saw a similar increase of 6.2% to 24.7%.

Chronic absenteeism in Ohio schools | Cincinnati Enquirer Databases | USA TODAY NETWORK

These numbers are confusing, however, because of the nature of distance or hybrid learning: what is “in school”?

Ohio has since changed the way it will count absences from days to cumulative hours to help districts count students who attend school regularly but might often be late.

Dr Ronald Iarussi

Marion City Schools Superintendent Dr. Ron Iarussi said online learning and hybrid models throughout the 2020-2021 school year are making it difficult to keep students in class.

“Last year, especially during our hybrid model and the times when we were away, we certainly struggled with attendance on those away days. We didn’t have that much trouble when the students were in person,” Yarussi said.

“You know, if Group A were there on Monday and Tuesday and then they were away on Thursday, Friday, they had a higher no-show rate on Wednesday-Thursday-Friday. So in other words, we had struggling to get them to show up on their Zoom meetings or to complete the work they were supposed to do remotely.”

That was consistent for students who opted for the fully remote option, Iarussi said, and for the 1,200 students who went to school fully online last year, absenteeism rates were particularly high.

Importance of in-person instruction

The implications of this phenomenon seem to be far-reaching: if students are not in school, their learning would naturally be at a cost.

Iarussi said this affected meeting students’ social and emotional needs.

“We also saw an academic slide with our students, and I think also from a socio-emotional standpoint. A lot of our behavioral issues and that sort of thing were definitely a result of our students not being in school with social skills and that kind of stuff,” he said.

This underscores the importance of keeping students in school buildings, educators say, as absentee rates are lower for in-person instruction.

Jessica Parthemore, Principal of Ridgedale Elementary

Ridgedale Elementary Principal Jessica Parthemore agreed that the nature of remote learning could have contributed to this phenomenon, explaining that it has also harmed Ridgedale students.

“Hybrid or distance instruction is not the same as being face-to-face with peers,” she said.

“We have seen a decline in student numbers academically and an increase in student behaviors over the past two years. This year has been an improvement in both due to the consistency of being in person throughout the year.”

In River Valley, Superintendent Adam Wickham noted that many new personal, family, school or community issues that could contribute to absences were on the rise.

“The pandemic has affected students’ physical health, mental health, and general social and emotional well-being over the past two years,” he said.

Adam Wickham is the new superintendent of local schools in River Valley.  His first day on the job will be Nov. 4, according to district officials.

“There are always other factors that impact absences, but that’s why we have supports in place, like our Family Liaison Officer Annie Tressler, who connects families with resources and s strives to improve attendance.”

Fight the pandemic

Beyond the reality of students finding distance or online instruction less helpful or desirable than in-person learning, much of the absenteeism data is, of course, attributed to days off for actual illness or required quarantines due to exposure to the virus.

“Absences during blended learning have increased dramatically. We have seen an increase in absences during full in-person instruction over the past two years. This was largely due to quarantines and/or exposure at home,” Parthemore said.

Younger or at-risk students were disproportionately affected by the aloof or hybrid models, Parthemore explained, but the consistency of in-person learning helped keep children in-person and in school.

“We have also noticed that some of our students most at risk for learning difficulties are struggling with inconsistent schedules (being here, being quarantined, being back in person, etc.) which can further disrupt their learning. “, she said.

“We’ve made great strides this year – consistency has helped, as well as changing guidelines that help keep our kids in school.”

Beyond pandemic effects

The effects of this extend beyond traditional districts and include the Tri-Rivers Career Center, which has seen an absence rate 8-9% higher than its normal rate throughout the pandemic, according to the superintendent. Charles Speelman.

Dr. Charles Speelman, Superintendent of Tri Rivers at Marion.

“In the past, children with a sore throat or a mild cold could come to school, but now they have been told to stay home. This affects attendance rates, so we have had to do show of grace there,” he said.

Speelman noted that the grace his administration has shown in the face of pandemic-related absences doesn’t mean it’s neglecting students who may have a deeper problem showing up for school.

“But at the same time, if someone has an attendance issue, we continue to work our process where we put them through the truancy program. They are expected to come to work and be here every day. days, you are healthy,” he said. noted.

“To still have 85% attendance in the middle of a pandemic, I was pretty happy with that, I mean I’m never happy with that, I still want all the kids here that can be,” said Speelman.

On behalf of Marion City Schools, Iarussi said the district is required by Bill 410 to report its attendance numbers.

The district works with the Marion County Family Court when a student reaches a certain number of hours of absence to enforce school attendance, and schools in the city of Marion have a great relationship with the courts. , Yarussi said.

Consolidating the immense effect the pandemic has had on those numbers, Wickham said River Valley is working to keep students in school and the number of absences is not an issue outside of the pandemic.

“Before the pandemic, our attendance data remained stable and we had very few instances of truancy in our district. District staff work hard to contact families when a student begins to show a negative attendance pattern,” did he declare.

“We care about our students and want them to be in our buildings. That’s why our Family Liaison will meet with families, conduct home visits and provide support to families as needed.”

Story by: Sophia Veneziano (740) 564 – 5243 | [email protected]

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