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1 in 5 high schools students absent from class, CPS data shows

Even as officials celebrated the reopening of all CPS high schools last week, the district saw low attendance for both in-person and remote learners a year into the pandemic.

Nicholas Senn High School Principal Mary Beck talks to IB English students at Nicholas Senn High School in the Edgewater neighborhood, Friday afternoon, April 23, 2021.
Nicholas Senn High School Principal Mary Beck talks to IB English students at Nicholas Senn High School in the Edgewater neighborhood, Friday afternoon, April 23, 2021.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Almost one in five Chicago Public Schools high schoolers was absent last week regardless of whether they signed up for in-person learning or chose to stay remote, according to district data released Wednesday.

The new attendance figures come as officials celebrate the reopening of all CPS high schools last week, a milestone reached after long negotiations with the teachers union and after 13 months of closures because of COVID-19.

District leaders have said offering in-person classes is the first step to recovering from the pandemic, but they’ll face challenges in the months ahead in reengaging students who haven’t had consistent or quality access to education.

Districtwide, including elementary schools, “we are continuing to see the majority of our students learning virtually, with an overall attendance rate of 89.5%,” Bogdana Chkoumbova, CPS’ chief of school management, said at Wednesday’s virtual Board of Education meeting.

Keeping with trends throughout this school year, Black students and children experiencing homelessness have had the highest absentee rates, largely because those populations have been most impacted by the various barriers to learning during the pandemic.

More than 25% of the district’s 22,100 Black high school students were absent from both in-person and remote learning last week, as were over 37% of homeless high schoolers and 26% of high school students in special education, according to data that tracked attendance during the first week of the fourth academic quarter starting April 19. Almost 19% of all high schoolers were absent.

Only about two-thirds of kids in grades 9-12 — 17,100 of 25,200 — attended in-person classes on days they were expected in school last week, data showed. An average of about 19% of high school students who had opted to return to classrooms ended up staying home and learning remotely instead.

Attendance in CPS elementary schools and special education cluster programs remained steady since the last update in March, with about 7% of students absent the week of April 19. Almost 69,000 elementary and cluster students returned for in-person learning at the start of the fourth quarter, up from about 50,000 in March.

Officials also released new data that showed 95% of high school teachers and staff are back working in person. Many of those workers had access to vaccines before being asked to return, so far fewer high school staff submitted work-from-home requests, human resources chief Matt Lyons told the board.

For elementary workers, about 1,300 of 5,600 accommodations and leaves of absence were extended from the third quarter to the fourth.