Case counts are trending down, but absenteeism remains high in Mat-Su schools

Bus driver shortage wasn’t the problem
Mat-Su Absenteeism
Published: Dec. 1, 2021 at 5:45 PM AKST
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Mat-Su Valley, Alaska (KTUU) - When the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District started noticing high rates of absenteeism among students earlier this year, they had a couple of theories as to why — one being the shortage of bus drivers.

“At the beginning of the year when we didn’t have full bus service, you know, we thought that was probably impacting attendance ... we could see it. But it hasn’t impacted as much as we thought it was,” said Randy Trani, superintendent of the district.

But even after drivers were hired and bus service resumed, the district only saw a small decrease in absenteeism, dropping from 18.7% to 18.4%.

MSBSD Student Absence Rates
MSBSD Student Absence Rates(KTUU-TV)

And while the absence rate for the district overall this year is at 18.6%, Trani says that number is actually on a downward trend. The district was experiencing an average daily absenteeism rate of 20% in early November.

“On September 3 about 32% of the entire district was absent that day,” said Trani. “... We aren’t having, you know, we have 20,000 kids and a third of them are absent, that’s a pretty dramatic absenteeism day.”

Currently the school district’s COVID-19 mitigation plan provides contact tracing in elementary schools, but the secondary schools are where the district is seeing the majority of the absences — leading Trani to believe close contacts of people who have tested positive aren’t the reason for the high volume of students calling out. He says it’s a systemic issue brought on by the pandemic.

“We’ve accidentally created a problem for ourselves where kids are now like used to staying home,” he said.

On Monday the district announced new changes that will soon be implemented to their mitigation plan.

“We did announce yesterday, in a pretty big announcement that I sent out to all families, that now that the vaccine is available for our younger students we are going to transition — after the new year — to the model that we’re currently using for our secondary students where we aren’t identifying large groups of close contacts,” Trani said. “We found that it hasn’t been preventing the spread as much as you would think. Most of the people that have been identified have never come up positive.”

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