Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – According to the Wisconsin Policy Forum, Wisconsin’s K-12 schools saw a sharp increase in absenteeism during the 2021 school year. The recent increase in chronically absent students may be due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had kids that were really, really nervous about coming back. And so, some started to come back and then they would miss school again.”

Even before COVID-19, Steig says absenteeism was a problem for schools.

“Sometimes children have academic struggles, or they have relationship struggles. It could be that they have mental health issues and concerns. And so, there’s a whole range of reasons why children are not coming to school.”

She says district data shows students’ sleeping habits may also be cause for concern.

“Our youth risk behavior survey shared that our students are up on school nights between midnight and 5 a.m. Almost 40% of the time.”

A local pediatrician says it’s important for students to get eight hours of sleep.

“It can also affect your intellectual ability to some capacity. So, if you’re getting consistently poor sleep, your ability to function at your previous capacity really diminishes. The hardest part of learning can be when kids are young. And if you don’t like school when you’re young, it’s hard to keep kids in school, it’s really hard to keep them engaged. And so, setting them on a good path early on is really, really important.”

Steig says kids who miss school are less likely to achieve academic and future success.

“That could lead to lower graduation rates. It could lead to community problems with juvenile delinquency, and adult corrections. I mean, there’s just a lot of concerns that can come up when children are missing so much school, and the behaviors can worsen.”

The district’s current attendance rate is 91 percent. Steig says the goal is to increase that to 95 percent. The Wisconsin Policy Forum will release new statewide data on absenteeism rates for the 2022 school year this spring.