Empty Desks, Missed Opportunities: Tackling Chronic School Absence | United Way of Southeast Louisiana

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Empty Desks, Missed Opportunities: Tackling Chronic School Absence

After a summer of fun, desks in classrooms across our region are once again filled with bright minds eager to learn. But what happens when some of those seats are empty too often? 

Chronic absence, defined as a student missing 10% or more of the school year, is a significant problem in Orleans Parish public schools. By the end of the of the 2017-18 school year, 26% of students were chronically absent

Communities across the nation are ushering in Attendance Awareness Month this September to raise awareness of the importance of good attendance and the impact of missed school days. Attendance issues vary from community to community, but factors specific to New Orleans include:

  • Generational poverty and accompanying trauma,
  • High rates of juvenile arrests,
  • Unaddressed health needs, particularly asthma,
  • Lack of transportation, exacerbated by a decentralized school system,
  • Weak social safety net and support systems for families, and
  • Lack of coordination among support systems for children, both in and out of school.

United Way knows that education is one of the best ways to place children on a path to prosperity and lift the entire community. We can’t afford for students to miss out on critical learning time due to preventable causes. 

According to the Attendance Awareness Campaign improving student attendance is “an essential, cost-effective strategy for ensuring student success and reducing achievement gaps.” 

That’s why the New Orleans Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, powered by United Way, recently joined forces with the New Orleans Children and Youth Planning Board and Orleans Parish School Board to form a School Attendance Task Force. 

Together, with a cross section of stakeholders, the task force is working to develop and guide the implementation of recommendations that increase awareness, improve coordination, test solutions, and ultimately reduce chronic absence in New Orleans public schools.

We can accomplish so much more when we collaborate and work toward a common goal. This concept of collective impact drives everything we do at United Way. While the task force is still in its early stages, I know that United, we will be able to make strides in reducing chronic absence and helping students succeed.

Living United, 


Jillian Delos Reyes

Grade Level Reading Manger

United Way of Southeast Louisiana