Report finds fewer NJ students are chronically absent

In an effort to bring attention to the issue of students missing too much school, Advocates for Children of New Jersey released its third annual report on chronic absenteeism. That’s defined by the organization as missing 10 percent or more of the school year, or about 18 days of class.

“That’s almost a month of school a year. And, that month of school a year is going to impact their learning in that year and for many years to come,” said ACNJ staff attorney Peter Chen.

The good news is the number of students who fell into that category in the 2015 to 2016 school year is down by about 8,000 from the year before. But some things still remain the same. Data shows in New Jersey, the age groups with the highest amount of chronically absent students are in kindergarten, and then again in high school. ACNJ Senior Policy Analyst Cynthia Rice says the reason why they’re missing days varies.

“For example, health is always an issue, but for different reasons. Health when you’re young can be everything from colds and things like that to asthma. We see a very high rate of asthma and health is an issue in higher grades often dealing with depression and things like that. Transportation is another issue. How kids get to school or not get to school is a problem, particularly in our urban areas where there’s not always busing,” said Rice.

More specifically, the report shows English language learners, economically disadvantaged students and students with special needs are more likely to miss a significant amount of school.

So how can the problem be solved?

Bergen County Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle says a bill she introduced will help cure chronic absenteeism. The bill requires any district with 10 percent or more chronically absent students to create a plan to address the issue.

“This would create a coalition of support, sort of like a school team support with school nurses, the principal, the teachers, the parents and community support to find out the reasons,” said Huttle.

Huttle and ACNJ are pushing for the Assembly to vote on the bill before the end of the year. The Senate already passed it unanimously.

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