Pandemic-related school closures wreaked havoc on attendance. Strict quarantine periods and policies demanding students stay home at any hint of a cough or runny nose tormented schools even after they reopened. Students got out of the habit of getting to school on time or going consistently at all.

By the 2021-22 school year, districts and charter networks across the country were facing what many dubbed a crisis of absenteeism. Students weren’t showing up, and educators had to act.

In Arizona, many responded as they had prior to the pandemic: with punishment, maintaining or even increasing the share of students they suspended for missing class. Yet others sharply limited the number of students suspended for attendance-related violations in the wake of the pandemic, and dozens more pushed ahead with less punitive strategies they had already adopted.

These distinctions — directly tied to the freedom afforded Arizona school systems to design their own disciplinary policies — emerged as part of a nearly yearlong investigation into attendance-related suspensions by The Hechinger Report and the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting. The first-of-its-kind analysis found nearly 47,000 suspensions for missing class over a five-year period, with Black, Latino and Indigenous students frequently receiving a disproportionate share.

Because this disciplinary tactic has uneven support across schools, whether students experience it can depend more on where they go to school than the fact that they missed class.

Indeed, educators in several districts that rarely suspend for attendance violations say addressing the causes of student absenteeism is crucial.

In some districts, school leaders have forged relationships with community partners willing to buy alarm clocks for students to help them get up and out of their homes on time. Others described principals picking up students in their own cars to get them to class.

In other cases, where academic struggles or bullying was to blame, tutoring and counseling helped re-engage students and keep them in class.

Read the full article about solving absenteeism without suspensions by Tara García Mathewson and Maria Polletta at The Hechinger Report.