Story at a glance
- The ninth largest school district in the country, Orange County Public Schools in Florida, is adjusting its absence policy.
- Students can no longer be given an excused absence if they stay home from school as a precaution for COVID-19.
- However, any student who exhibits illness or symptoms of COVID-19 must not come into school.
Parents in Florida who worry about their child being exposed to COVID-19 or want to keep them home from school out of an abundance of caution may want to think twice, as one school district is no longer allowing excused absences for COVID-19 reasons.
On Wednesday, Orange County Public Schools, the ninth largest district in the country, announced that beginning Jan. 31 the district would no longer be able to provide excused absences for COVID-19, citing a decreasing number of cases.
The district also said that managing assignments for large numbers of absent students is straining teachers.
“The state has not extended the quarantine code to be used in accommodation of absences in our attendance records, so students should be considered truant for non-attendance. We simply must discontinue the provision,” said Orange County Public Schools on its Facebook page.
Previously the district had allowed excused absences for students who were sick, staying home due to being exposed to COVID-19 and for parents exercising caution that wanted to keep their child home.
According to Orange County Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard, there have been a total of 19,548 total confirmed positive cases in the district, more than 15,000 of which were identified in students.
The district did encourage students to wear masks and said concerned parents could still enroll their children in home school education.
The change in policy targets children staying home from school as a precaution, as the district explicitly said if a child is exhibiting illness or symptoms of COVID-19, they should not come into school.
School attendance rates have taken a battering over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, as a survey by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) found that years prior to the pandemic had an average daily attendance of about 95 percent for elementary schools and 92 percent for secondary schools.
The average attendance rate in fall 2020 was 92 percent for early and upper elementary school students, 90 percent for middle school students and 89 percent for high school students.
AIR found that overall, 18 percent of districts that reported daily attendance for all students was substantially lower in fall 2020 than in fall 2019.
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