This school district is battling against chronic absenteeism. Here’s how.

Research from school district shows reasons students miss class are often out of their control

DETROIT – It’s hard to learn A-B-C’s and 1-2-3′s when you are A-B-S-E-N-T.

Kids missing classes in certain districts was an issue before 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic only heightened that problem further.

However, one district is trying to buck that troubling trend and not only reverse the rise in chronic absenteeism, but find solutions that could benefit other schools. They’re placing programs to not only find the cause of the students absence, but to combat the issues.

Detroit Public School Community District hired a team of attendance agents a few years ago to find the cause of why students were not coming to school.

“Kids being tardy to school. If it’s excessive, you want to find out why,” said Effie Harris, an attendance agent at Gompers Elementary-Middle School. “You’re investigating early pickups. If kids are leaving school early, you want to find out why and, of course, when kids are not in school on a regular basis.”

Research from the school district shows that the reasons that students miss class are often out of their control. Instead, it may be that their families may not have stable access to resources.

A phone call home to parents is often a start to finding solutions to the problem. Once the issue is addressed, resources can be provided to the parents. The resources available can range from transportation to clothes and financial support.

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Many of resources needed can be found at the Family Resource Distribution Center. It is available for the families within the Detroit Public Schools Community District, and provides items from water to coats and uniforms for free.

Harris said that it’s OK to struggle, yet it is not OK to give up while you are struggling. She would like to see parents overcome the barriers that they are facing.

Gloria Vanhoosier, a mother of five, opened up to Harris about some of her struggles.

“I was trying to be superwoman, you know -- a lot of overwhelming things, which cause stress, depression,” Vanhoosier said.

Many in situations similar to Vanhoosier have also been utilizing the resources available. Sharlonda Buckman, the assistant superintendent of Family and Community Engagement, stated that while resources used to last weeks, now they are being claimed within days.

In a townhall forum, DPSCD Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti was optimistic for the programs set in place to bring down chronic absenteeism.

“Before the pandemic, we improved average daily attendance by about 2-3 percentage points,” Vitti said. “We reduced chronic absenteeism by 8 or 9 percentage points. So it can be done, and we did it.”

The pandemic is still affecting families and the district. Approximately 350 students are still virtual. Vitti said he and the school district are committed to meeting the needs of parents.

This article is part of “Solutionaries,” our continuing commitment to solutions journalism, highlighting the creative people in communities working to make the world a better place, one solution at a time. Find out what you can do to help at

About the Authors:

You can watch Kimberly Gill weekdays anchoring Local 4 News at 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. and streaming live at 10 p.m. on Local 4+. She's an award-winning journalist who finally called Detroit home in 2014. Kim has won Regional Emmy Awards, and was part of the team that won the National Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Newscast in 2022.