School absences rising in Utah and across nation

Mar 29, 2024, 4:00 PM | Updated: Apr 1, 2024, 1:36 pm

A classroom door is pictured at Hawthorne Elementary School in Salt Lake City. Utah school absences...

Utah school absences are increasing in Utah. A classroom door is pictured at Hawthorne Elementary School in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Fewer students are making it to class across the nation. The same thing is happening right here in Utah.

Utah is barely behind the national average, jumping about 10% in the last six years for K-12 students. That’s around two days absent a month.

Aspen Florence, who is an absenteeism prevention specialist with the Utah State Board of Education, said the board doesn’t have concrete evidence on what is causing this.

Students might not think attendance is important because the pandemic showed us that online school is possible.

“Our data suggested that while we can do school in that way, it wasn’t nearly as effective as in-person instruction,” Florence said. “But I think there is that false thought of, like, ‘Well, you know, I can do my assignment online on Canvas.'”

The data shows that around the country, about a quarter of all students are chronically absent.

Some students have unreliable transportation or they have to get a job to help support family. Others are disengaged or struggling, while some just don’t realize how much school they’re missing.

The absences may be linked to aftereffects of the pandemic. Florence said that the pandemic affected the way people view illnesses;  students might be more likely to stay home if they start feeling sick.

“The idea might be that students are more aware of when they’re ill and so they stay home more frequently,” Florence said, “or it might be that we learned that we can do some school online.”

How to decrease Utah school absences

Florence said attendance can be improved with a community effort and a push for education.

Another tip Florence shared was having a pediatrician tell students why attendance is so important.

Those pediatricians can also help students and parents by instructing them on how to determine if a child is too sick to go to school.


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School absences rising in Utah and across nation