The American Academy of Pediatrics’ new policy statement, The Link Between School Attendance and Good Health, presents an incredible opportunity for state, district and local educators to connect with health care providers as key allies in the effort to reduce health-related student absences.
Published in the February issue of Pediatrics, the statement encourages physicians who work with children to promote school attendance, reduce chronic absenteeism and in doing so address health disparities in childhood and later in life.
The statement suggests that pediatricians ask about the number of missed school days in the past month at every visit for school-aged children, provides recommendations for materials to be shared in waiting rooms and at office visits, and urges health care providers to provide guidance to families about when it is appropriate to send a child back to school.
States see the value of measuring and addressing chronic absenteeism. This is made clear by the 36 states and the District of Columbia that included this metric in their state accountability system under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
“State chiefs work every day to create the conditions for learning that students need to thrive. The American Academy of Pediatrics new statement provides an opportunity for health care providers to be key partners in every state’s effort to create safe, supportive and engaging schools. The statement lays out how pediatricians across the country can join educators to help families and communities understand the importance of reducing chronic absence and educating them about how to prevent health-related absences,” says Pedro Rivera, Pennsylvania secretary of education and president of the Board of Directors of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).
“Supporting our young people to meet and exceed the rigorous academic expectations we have set can only happen if they come to school. Attendance is critical so we can ensure all students have equitable education opportunities for success in college, careers and life,” Rivera adds.
Health-related absences are one of the top reasons students miss so many days of school that they are at risk of being chronically absent. Occasional absences related to health reasons are to be expected, for example when a student has a fever or is throwing up, they should be kept home. But absences can quickly add up when a child has undertreated chronic health conditions such as asthma or diabetes, has multiple health conditions, or lacks access to care, according to AAP. Students can also miss too many days due to bullying, anxiety or other mental health issues.
How can educators and other advocates for children address health-related issues that involve factors outside the school building? First, share the AAP policy statement with health care providers working with children and encourage them to educate families and students about the importance of regular attendance. Second, implement the recommendations in the statement for schools and encourage parents to keep student’s health and develop plans for chronic illnesses.
Schools aren’t expected to reduce chronic absence alone, but when educators, families and community partners work together to monitor data, nurture a habit of regular attendance and address hurdles that keep children from getting to school every day, the needle moves on chronic absence.
The National Association of State Boards of Education in February released a new policy statement, Examining Chronic Absence through a Student Health Lens. The policy was developed in collaboration with Attendance Works and the Healthy Schools Campaign. Download NASBE’s policy statement here.
Download the AAP’s policy statement, The Link Between School Attendance and Good Health.
Read a blog post here about the AAP statement by Dr. Mandy A. Allison, a lead author of the policy statement, and a former member of the AAP Council on School Health Executive Committee.
For more resources and information about the connection between chronic absence and health, consider joining Here + Healthy, a joint campaign sponsored by Attendance Works and the Healthy Schools Campaign.