In-person attendance is down during the pandemic

School leaders across Idaho say student attendance is down during the pandemic — and periodic quarantine requests are driving the decline.

In some districts, requests from school leaders and health officials to keep students home have numbered in the hundreds.

“We have roughly 753 instances when we have excluded students from school since the start of the year,” Twin Falls School District spokeswoman Eva Craner told EdNews. Twin Falls serves some 9,300 students.

Local health officials are working with educators and the public to identify students who may have contracted COVID-19. Those flagged for possible exposure can be required to quarantine and miss out on in-person learning for up to 14 days at a time.

It’s hard to say exactly how the requests are impacting attendance statewide, since quarantined students in some districts can log into their school’s remote learning programs and be marked present. The state will release official daily attendance numbers next month, State Board of Education spokesman Mike Keckler told EdNews.

Still, several early tallies suggest students are showing up in person less often during the pandemic. And that’s on top of enrollment drops plaguing brick-and-mortar schools across the state.

Enrollment and attendance aren’t the same. Students typically enroll in a district or charter at the start of the school year. Attendance deals with the number of students who show up on a daily basis.

For some educators and experts, drops in attendance carry heavy consequences for student learning — and beyond.

“Kids need to be in front of a teacher, no buts about it,” said Madison School District assistant superintendent Randy Lords. “I’d stake my educational career on that.”

Martha Stone, executive director for the Center of Children’s Advocacy, recently linked both educational and social issues to major drops in attendance.

“One of the most important measures to look at is chronic absenteeism, because it’s so related to student engagement, student success and penetration into the juvenile justice system,” Stone recently told the Hartford Courant.

Attendance usually impacts state funding for Idaho’s public schools, but the State Board in August approved a temporary rule that allows schools to use enrollment, not in-person attendance, to calculate funding measures during the pandemic. That change lasts at least through the end of the calendar year.

Under normal circumstances, Idaho law caps financial losses stemming from enrollment declines at 3 percent of what the state paid a district or charter the prior school year.

Some districts are already exceeding that threshold.

Last year, Madison’s average daily attendance hovered around 97 percent, according to state numbers. Lords said the district’s rate now bounces between 90 and 92 percent. (Earlier this month, the New York Times placed Madison’s county seat, Rexburg, atop a national list of metro areas with the highest levels of community spread of COVID-19 .)

The Pocatello-Chubbuck School District has seen a drop of 3.4 percentage points from last year — and that’s with the district’s secondary students learning partially from home.

Those students can stay home on days approved by the district and be counted present if they meet their school’s login requirements.

Twin Falls’ overall drop is just under 2.5 percentage points from last year, yet declines have more than doubled that amount in some schools. Average daily attendance at the district’s Pillar Falls Elementary School has declined by almost 6 percentage points.

Drops in other districts have prompted policy changes — and blowback from community members.

Three trustees in the Idaho Falls School District are facing a recall effort after the school board approved a remote learning model for high schoolers. Trustees pointed to higher rates of reported in-person absences among high school students as justification for the change.

Coeur d’Alene spokesman Scott Maben said quarantined students who meet his district’s remote attendance criteria are marked present, unless parents tell the district their student is ill.

Coeur d’Alene had issued 460 quarantine notifications to students as of Wednesday, Maben told EdNews.

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

Devin was formerly a senior reporter and editor for Idaho Education News and now works for INL in communications.

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