Chronic Absenteeism During Times of COVID


School nurses asked for guidance on how to address chronic absenteeism this coming school year. Questions have included: should we track it? How do we track attendance for virtual school? and How do we promote attendance, while also telling students with COVID or other infectious symptoms to stay home?  

The key is to remember why we track attendance, and particularly chronic absenteeism. Chronic absenteeism is an evidence-based indicator of students at risk, not just of academic failure, but other social, emotional, or physical health concerns and health inequities (Jordan, 2020). COVID has exacerbated these disparities while also limiting usual surveillance of their presence. During times of crisis there is increased domestic violence and other social issues (Campbell, 2020). This makes identifying and intervening for student’s risk even more important. So yes, school nurses should be leaders in helping schools decide to track attendance.

For schools meeting in person, attendance should be taken to identify students at risk. The message should NOT be punitive, rather it should be about schools caring about students and supporting families: so, encouraging healthy students to attend school, and insisting students with symptoms to stay home.

For schools meeting virtually, attendance can still be taken with the focus on student engagement and connection (Jordan, 2020). Examples of virtual school engagement include monitoring attendance during virtual class or office hours, requiring students to login daily, tracking students’ completion of assignments, providing opportunities for students to connect with teachers (or nurse) via phone or email, or students completing a task or assignment for the day (Castelo, 2020; Jordan, 2020; Lieberman, 2020).

School nurses can creatively connect with students and families virtually. These include sending out information about local food banks or other services that families may need and asking if there are other ways school nurses can support student health needs (providing some of the questions of the day mentioned earlier), providing virtual office hours, reaching out to specific students via phone or email, attending classroom google chats, or organizing virtual lunch bunch or support groups for specific students of concern. School nurses also could deliver materials or school lunches to homes as a way of engaging students as well. In all of these actions it is critical the school nurse shows empathy for students and families and use the information to work with students most at risk.

The NASN’s evidence-based tool for school-nurse led active surveillance (coming soon!) will work if schools are in person or virtual. It is important to remember the WHY behind chronic absenteeism.  The role of a school nurse is to keep students healthy, safe and ready to learn, whether if it is in person or virtual.


Castelo, M. (2020, May 6). How K-12 schools monitor attendance during remote learning. EdTech: Focus on K-12.

Campbell, A. M. (2020). An increasing risk of family violence during the COVID-19 pandemic: strengthening community collaborations to save lives. Forensic Science International: Reports [online first].

Jordan, P. (2020). Attendance playbook: Smart strategies for reducing chronic absenteeism in the COVID era. Future Ed and Attendance Works.

Lieberman, M (2020, April 17). Taking attendance during Coronovirus closures: Is it even worth it? Education Week.

1 comment



Thanks for highlighting the critical need to monitor chronic absenteeism as an important indicator of family distress,  School nurses will have insights into the pressures on families due to COVID and the causes of students' "absence" from online learning.  Families are going to have internal competition for the many familiy members expected to be present online for work and school.  How many devices are needed in a home with 1 or 2 parents working remotely and 3 kids expected to be "present" in the classroom.  What about middle and high school students who are providing childcare for a parent who is going to work or working from home?  School nurses will be in a position to provide date that will assist schools and communities to prorvide the support that  families and school children need to thrive during the pandemic