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More Pandemic Fallout: The Chronically Absent Student

In Washington County, Md., the rate of public school students who were chronically absent rose to about 38 percent during the first semester of this school year — more than double the rate from a comparable time period before the pandemic.

The absences appear to have been driven in part by depression and anxiety among students, cases of which skyrocketed during the pandemic and are now overwhelming health care providers, according to Jeremy Jakoby, the district’s director of student services.

“Kids aren’t showing up as much as they used to,” said Leilani Ciampo, 14, a high school freshman in Washington County. Some students, she said, have jobs during the day, while others have simply fallen out of the habit of coming to class after months of online learning.

“And some of them get Covid,” she added.

That was what happened to Leilani, who was absent more than two dozen times during her freshman year, largely because of quarantines. She missed a fun experiment in her chemistry lab — classmates later told her they had watched compounds catch fire, making flames in fantastic colors — and she was not there when her English class worked its way through “Romeo and Juliet.”

Isolated in her bedroom and getting class notes online, Leilani stumbled through the Shakespearean tragedy. Now, she is scrambling to pull up her scores in time to pass English this year. “I’m really worried about it,” she said.

Students’ anxieties have only been compounded by economic pressures, said Emily Jones, a P.P.W. in Washington County whose work involves helping families find ways to cover food, utility bills or other expenses. “A lot of families I’m working with, it’s all hands on deck,” she said. “You have kids working jobs the minute they’re able to get a work permit.”

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