A new COVID side-effect: Changed habits around going to school

Feb 13, 2023, 3:26 PM | Updated: 3:44 pm

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah — COVID-19 changed a lot of things in our lives. Americans report it changed their personal relationships, their physical and mental health, their jobs and more.

One change that is coming to light more recently is how COVID-19 changed children’s attendance at school. School districts have lost track of thousands of students nationwide who left public schools since the COVID pandemic began in earnest in March of 2020. We can’t say for sure how many of them receive unreported schooling at home, versus how many truly fit the definition of truant.  

Stanford University did an analysis with the Associated Press and found there were just no records for more than 240,000 students living in 21 states and the District of Columbia last year.

Are Utah schools missing students?

The short answer is “Yes.” Granite, Alpine, Canyons, Davis, Provo, Nebo, Weber and Washington school districts all reported huge increases in chronic school absences after the COVID pandemic.  These chronic absences are also responsible for an increase in “D’s” and “F’s” for students in Utah, according to a recent KSL.com report.

KSL was in the community last week at Granger High School. Brandy Oliver, a school counselor at Granger, said that a significant number of students just stopped coming to school after COVID-19.

“It’s like they got out of the habit of always going to school,” Oliver said. “Their parents just got out of the habit of taking them to school.”

Students broke the habit of going to school during COVID

Experts say it takes at least two months, on average 66 days, to form a new habit. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the time students spent remote learning at the end of 2020, and for some in 2021 as well, far exceeds that minimum.

Research does show that 26% of children who left school during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic switched to homeschooling, but even when you account for changes to homeschools and private schools, there are still hundreds of thousands of children unaccounted for.

Dr. Thomas S. Dee of Stanford says, “There’s this chunk that we just can’t explain.”

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A new COVID side-effect: Changed habits around going to school