Nationwide, a staggering number of children are chronically absent. While the causes are multifold, one stands out as especially significant: student health. Taking action to address health-related chronic absenteeism can have a powerful impact on students’ academic success and well-being for a lifetime.
Students with chronic health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or depression, often miss class because of the symptoms of their illness or because they are receiving medical treatment during the school day. Students can also be chronically absent because of acute health issues such as fever, flu or dental pain. All of these are compounded when students don’t have access to appropriate physical, mental, behavioral, dental and vision health services.
To raise awareness about the connection between chronic absenteeism and health, we partnered with Attendance Works on Here + Healthy. As part of this initiative, national education and health organizations signed on to educate their networks about the inclusion of chronic absenteeism in state and local report cards and raise awareness of health-related causes of chronic absenteeism.
We’ve worked with partners to share information about chronic absenteeism on social media, through email newsletters and are working on drafting policy briefs and factsheets to further the understanding of the causes and solutions for chronic absenteeism. We are so grateful for the amazing work our partners have done during this campaign.
The National Association of State Boards of Education, which works with citizen leaders on state boards of education, signed on to Here + Healthy because supporting their members in better understanding and addressing the determinants of academic success, including chronic absenteeism. “By participating in this effort, we hope our collective voice and resources will further empower our members and others in the education field to improve the health systems and supports provided to our nation’s students,” says Megan Blanco, a senior policy associate at NASBE. “As part of our participation, NASBE is raising awareness of the issue through publications, technical assistance to states, social media and more.”
Another organization that signed on to Here + Healthy is the National Association of School Nurses, who signed on to amplify the issue of chronic absenteeism with school nurses across the country. “Chronic absenteeism is an early warning sign of academic failure or school dropout,” says Donna Mazyck, NASN Executive Director. “Helping students regularly attend school begins when barriers to attendance are recognized, identified and resolved.”
Fortunately there are many evidence-based interventions that can address the health-related causes of chronic absenteeism. But implementing them requires decision makers at all levels—from parents to principals, all the way to state education officers—to use data to understand the health-related causes of chronic absenteeism, demand appropriate solutions, and put political will and funding behind them.
Making sure that these groups understand the connection between health, absenteeism and learning is an essential first step. We’re excited to see what will happen next.