New numbers show increased absenteeism, seniors not on track to graduate at South Bend high schools

NOW: New numbers show increased absenteeism, seniors not on track to graduate at South Bend high schools

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Expanded summer school and after school programs are just the start of dealing with chronic absenteeism and graduation rate problems at South Bend schools.

Administrators say those problems existed prior to the pandemic, but the newest numbers paint a more alarming picture.

“The course failure rates have been high across the board,” Rafi Nolan-Abrahamian, the South Bend Community School Corporation’s Assistant Superintendent of Accountability, says. “That’s true not only at the upper-high school level, but throughout middle school and elementary.”

Almost a third of soon-to-be seniors at South Bend high schools are not on track to graduate, a significant increase from years past.

“We expect our graduation rate for 2021 to decline,” Nolan-Abrahamian explains.  

But Nolan-Abrahamian admits prior to the pandemic, graduation rates weren’t where administrators had hoped.

That’s, in part, due to rising truancy rates.

“We saw a significantly expanded population of students, without prior attendance difficulties, struggle to engage,” Nolan-Abrahamian explains.

Last school year, nearly 50 percent of students in the district were chronically absent, double the percentage from four years ago.

“The levels we’re seeing now approaching 50 percent are attributable to COVID,” Nolan-Abrahamian says.

While Nolan-Abrahamian again admits the rates weren’t great before the pandemic, he says some of the most vulnerable kids and families will be coming back in the fall, giving the district an opportunity to make an impact.

“We have built in extended learning time, one-point-five hours, four days a week at all schools,” Nolan-Abrahamian explains.  

As far as how to get kids back in the classroom and back on track, Nolan-Abrahamian says that will involve identifying those students at-risk and frequently checking in on them, something the district admits it couldn’t do as well of a job as it would’ve liked during the pandemic.

We reached out to Superintendent Todd Cummings to talk about some of these numbers, but he wasn't available for an interview.

We also reached out to school board members, but none were available for interviews.

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