Rate of Chronically Absent LA Unified Students Doubled in the Past Year

By Micaela Ricaforte
Micaela Ricaforte
Micaela Ricaforte
April 12, 2022 Updated: April 12, 2022

Students who are chronically absent in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) have more than doubled this school year compared to last year, according to LAUSD data obtained via a public records request.

Students considered chronically absent are those who have missed at least 9 percent of school days this year, according to the data.

Chronic absenteeism in the 2019–2020 school year was 15 percent, according to the data. In the two years prior it was 25 percent and again, 15 percent.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the 2020-2021 school year, when LAUSD moved to online classes, chronic absenteeism remained consistent with pre-pandemic levels at about 18 percent.

But as students returned to campus for this school year, it jumped to 46 percent.

The data also showed that the number of chronically absent students is disproportionately high among economically disadvantaged students and those in foster care. Those rates more than doubled.

In the past four years, about 20 percent of economically disadvantaged students were chronically absent; this school year, the number is 50 percent.

Meanwhile, on average, 40 percent of foster youth were chronically absent in the past four years; this year, 60 percent of foster youth students are chronically absent.

LAUSD enacted some of the strictest COVID-19 policies for schools in the nation.

At the height of the Omicron variant surge in January, about 30 percent of—or 180,000—students did not attend classes the first week due to either testing positive for the virus or due to technical issues uploading their COVID-19 status to the district’s “Daily Pass” mobile app, as the district required.

Though nearly 90 percent of students over 12 years old are vaccinated, those that aren’t and who are exposed to the virus must quarantine between five days and 10 days—depending on whether they want to take a COVID test or not.

In his so-called “100-Day Plan,” new LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said part of his short-term strategy is to strengthen engagement between families and schools that may have been lost during the pandemic with phone calls and text messages, home visits, and even wellness checks.

“A kid who is absent is a kid who is not learning,” Carvalho said in a presentation of his plan before the LA City Council April 8. “This means all hands on deck. We are facing a crisis.”

Carvalho said he recently asked for 30 chronically absent students to be assigned to him and each member of his senior staff, along with his cabinet and the LAUSD Board of Education. Each staff member will be responsible for reaching out to the families of those students via phone call and home visits.

Long term, the superintendent said he plans to launch a program next school year that would create a team of counselors tasked with preventing chronic absenteeism.

He said he also plans to work with LA County to connect families to food, housing, legal support, and transportation, as well as social services such as therapy, grief counseling, and substance abuse treatment.

A request for comment from the LAUSD was not returned.