Attendance Slips On First Day Back For NYC Public Schools

City figures show a dip in attendance on first day of school compared to previous years: The average attendance rate was 82.4% on September 13th, compared to 90.1% on the first day of school in 2019 and 89.5% in 2018.

New York City officials emphasize that attendance numbers are preliminary and always fluctuate at the beginning of the year. “We know historically that attendance grows over the first few weeks,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday.

“We had a ton of students showing up, registering at schools yesterday,” Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter said. “And so it will be a rolling number for some time.”

Officials also said these early stats do not include about 350 schools that have yet to deliver their tallies from Monday. 

Still, the numbers could indicate that some parents have left the public school system or the city altogether after a trying 18 months of remote and hybrid learning. They may also reflect the hesitance of some parents to send their children back to school in-person during the ongoing health crisis. Multiple parents have said they plan to keep their kids home because of safety concerns. Some are seeking medical accommodations for their children. Others want to wait and see whether there are outbreaks in buildings before deciding whether to send their children back.

Officials declined to give the total enrollment number used to determine average attendance, arguing it is premature to release a total because registration is open until October.

Overall, enrollment in the city’s public schools has been declining in recent years. Last winter, officials said 43,000 students had left the system, bringing the total to 960,000. In the spring, the education department disclosed that kindergarten applications had dropped 12% from the previous year.

While lower than pre-pandemic years, attendance on Monday was up compared to last fall. On the first full day of remote and hybrid learning in 2020 attendance was 80.3%, and administrators struggled to coax students into coming to class, especially virtually. They hit the phones and pounded the pavement trying to track down kids who struggled to get online or felt unmotivated to show up. At the time, the threshold for being counted present was also lower, with students only having to log on for one class to get credit for the full day. Attendance was lowest at schools in neighborhoods with high COVID-19 rates.

Porter said educators would be doing outreach to families this year, as well. “Our teachers will be reaching out, our principals will be reaching out, our attendance team members, our counselors, our social workers,” she said. “This is what we do every year.”

Despite some snags yesterday, particularly the crashing of the city’s required health screening website, many parents said the first day of school seemed to go well.

This article has been updated to clarify that the attendance numbers released so far are preliminary and do not include attendance numbers from 350 schools.