Since the start of the 2022-2023 school year in August, 2,742 students have already missed at least 10% of days of class in Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) schools.

According to a report presented to the Board of Education last week, high absenteeism rates continue to be an issue of concern for the District following the outbreak of the COVID 19 pandemic and an extended period of remote learning.

A previous report showed that the number of chronically absent students – those who miss 10% of school days or more – just about doubled from 10.3% in the pre-pandemic 2018-2019 year to 20.4% in 2021-2022.

That number continues to climb. So far this school year, 31% of the District’s nearly 9,000 students have been classified as chronically absent. Of these students, 7% have missed 20% of days or more. An additional 27% have missed between 5-10%.

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Jacqueline Mora said the trend is not unique to SMMUSD and is being seen around the country and throughout California.

“Absenteeism has increased; that’s something that is happening statewide and here in Southern California,” she said. “In my conversations with the LA County Office of Ed, that is something that is being experienced across the board.”

In SMMUSD, the issue is most prevalent among historically marginalized groups, including students with disabilities, Latinx, Native American and Black students, socio-economically disadvantaged students and English learners.

“They’re all ranging between 30-38% which is a high population of our students that are missing school in these subgroups,” Director of Assessment, Research and Evaluation Stacy Williamson said.

Mora said the District is working to combat the rise by identifying the reasons students are not showing up and providing targeted services to work with families to address them.

“So really how are we making sure that we’re connecting with families and asking them ‘what are those barriers?’ and “how can we support you?…’” she said. “How is it that we are really taking into account the needs of our communities, the needs of our families and students, how are we bringing to the forefront the work around diversity, equity and inclusion and really living, and responding, and acting in a way that helps our families feel that they are heard, that they belong and that we are here as partners to support them and their children.”

While the Board expressed support for these efforts, board member Jennifer Smith noted that because attendance data includes both unexcused and excused absences, the ongoing presence of COVID, the severity of this year’s flu season and the recent spread of other respiratory illnesses likely accounts for some of the increase.

“We’re coming through a terrible illness time and obviously it impacts the same if kids aren’t showing up – with excuses or no excuses – but there’s a different level of ability to address it in certain circumstances than other circumstances which are harder,” she said. “I guess I feel like we’re still rebounding from this pandemic…so hopefully we’ll go back to our normal levels soon.”

District staff will provide another update on attendance rates and other student metrics later in the school year.

Grace Adams

Grace Adams is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University where she studied Spanish and journalism. She holds a Master’s degree in investigative journalism from City, University of London. She has experience...