New data from Minneapolis reveals high absenteeism rates among disabled children

During the course of the health crisis, a significant increase in the count of students facing disabilities who show chronic absenteeism in Minneapolis Public Schools is evident, with a percentage doubling or almost doubling across more than 33% of schools. Over 1,600 students fail to participate in regular classes.

Notably, in four schools, the figure has tripled, and in two schools, it has surged over four times. Encouragingly, attendance has advanced in only six out of the 55 conventional schools as per the five-year school-level attendance data made public recently by the district.

Exacerbating the connection, no data regarding 14 specialized schools catering to students with profound needs, including self-contained special education programs, was disclosed. Besides, some of these programs do not report attendance figures at all. Special state data affirms that less than 4% of students enrolled at the high school dedicated to students with severe behavioral issues maintain regular attendance in Minneapolis.

The statistics shed light on an aspect of a national crisis neglected, stemming from the disruptions in schools due to the pandemic. Historically, students with disabilities are the most prone demographic group to high absenteeism levels, necessitating educators, guided by federal civil rights laws, to take considerable measures to ensure their school attendance and provide appropriate support once they are present.

Back in 2020 following the initiation of the COVID-related school closures, the U.S. Department of Education was prompt in warning that the transition to remote learning does not excuse educational leaders from their obligations toward this group. Minnesota swiftly passed a law mandating school systems to identify special education students in need of additional assistance to recover from academic and developmental setbacks, offering support to defray the costs. The exact number of students who availed these recovery services remains uncertain.

As per the recently released data by the Minneapolis district, the count of students with disabilities exhibiting chronic absenteeism surged from 29% in the academic year ending in 2019 to a peak of 53% in 2022, and then to 46% in 2023. However, these averages mask substantial disparities among individual schools, varying from 21% to 80% in 2023.

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