Working to reduce chronic absenteeism in South Carolina schools


COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) — The number of students in South Carolina missing school on a regular basis appears to be dropping.

In South Carolina, a student is considered chronically absent if they miss more than 10% of the school year. School districts in the state are required to report the number of chronically absent children to the US Department of Education.

South Carolina Education Association President Sherry East said chronic absenteeism is something they watch very closely. “The bottom line is I can’t teach you the content if you’re not in class,” East said.

Data shared by the state Department of Education shows the chronic absenteeism rate dropped during the 2019-20 school year. Rates reached nearly 14% the year before.

Chronic absenteeism rates (Source: SCDE)

Near the end of the 2019-20 school year, students were forced to learn virtually due to the pandemic. We reached out to the Department of Education to see if they could point to a specific reason for this 5% drop in absenteeism rates.

East said she is hopeful attendance issues like this will remain in the forefront after the pandemic. She said chronic absenteeism could have an impact on a student’s achievement.

She said, “It’s hard as a teacher to educate a child when they’re not there. You can’t expect me to teach your child to read when you don’t send your child to school. Taking COVID out of the picture, it’s been a problem. It’s been a problem for years.”

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East said factors at home could play a big role in a student missing school on a regular basis. Data from the state Department of Education shows 24% of homeless students in South Carolina and 10% of economically disadvantaged students are chronically absent.

“We have to take a look at the root of the problem, let’s not just throw kids in jail or pass them or fail,” East said. She suggested looking at coming up with flexible schedules for students that may need to work to help their families or provide assistance for families struggling to secure housing.

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