More than a third of Summit School District students have been ‘chronically absent’ this school year

District calls for intervention response to shore up attendance rates which were worse among older grades

The Summit School District Administration Building in Frisco. District data shows that more than 36% of students were considered "chronically absent" during the 2022-23 school year.
Liz Copan/Summit Daily News archive

Editor’s note: This story’s headline has been updated to clarify that the data is for the current school year, meaning the 2022-23 academic year.

More than a third of Summit School District students were considered to be “chronically absent” during the 2022-23 school year, according to Lana Huizar, the district’s equity director. 

The term, defined by the Colorado Department of Education, refers to a student whose absences have exceeded 10% of the academic year, which usually translates to 17 or 18 school days, Huizar said during a March 9 Summit Board of Education meeting.

“Our district does not have a district-wide goal for improving attendance and reducing chronic absence,” Huizar told board members before proposing a tiered intervention model for students, staff and parents aimed at reducing time missed in the classroom. 

District data shows that of the 1,339 students who missed more than 10% of school days — accounting for more than 36% of the student body — absences were most prevalent among Hisapanic students, who had an attendance rate of 87.1% compared to white, Black, Asian and Native American students, all of which had above 90% attendance. 

Attendance rates also declined across grade levels, decreasing from 91.3% in Kindergarten to 85.1% in 12th grade. Attendance data did include students with excused absences, such as for a sport’s game or dentist’s appointment, Huizar said. 

Addressing declining attendance rates across age and race calls for an equitable approach, Huizar said, adding the data is not “shared in a punitive sense” but rather to help district staff, parents and students “work together to have shared accountability to start improving these numbers.”

“There is a plethora of reasons why students are missing school, one of those is mental health,” Huizar said. “We really need to focus on having prevention and having strong, concrete interventions early on … so that by the time they get to high school, this isn’t something we’re trying to address for the first time.”

This response would be tiered depending on the severity of a student’s absences, Huizar said, and could include partnering with a clinician service to offer consultation for parents to help them identify absences and address underlying issues as well as training for district staff. 

Board members expressed a need to also find stopgap solutions as staff prepare to roll out a more robust intervention approach.

“Those attendance numbers are concerning,” said Board President Kate Hudnut. 

“We already have attendance issues today, and we still have the rest of the school year,” said board member Johanna Kugler.

Kugler said as the district collects more data on attendance rates, it should not have a “blanket” approach to all students. She gave the example of students who face chronic health conditions that may cause them to miss school on a semiregular basis and added that context around absences is crucial. 

Superintendent Tony Byrd, along with Huizar, said district staff have begun having conversations with school officials and will continue to identify short-term fixes along with a more robust framework for mitigating chronic absences into the future. 

Attendance is the “No. 1 worry in our schools” and “a profound worry at the high school,” he added. 

Byrd also agreed that parsing out data points to provide greater context around absences was key. Ultimately, Byrd said it comes back to the district having an equitable approach to students and families. 

Byrd said he recalled interviewing last year for his role as superintendent and meeting with students to talk about issues. A lack of belonging, he said, could be a root cause for why students are showing up less. 

“I heard over and over again, including from students in our high school, ‘some of our students don’t feel seen or heard here,’” Byrd said. 

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