NewsLEX 18 In-Depth


Student attendance rocked by illness

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Posted at 7:43 PM, Nov 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-30 19:43:40-05

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — A combination of respiratory illnesses has forced parents to keep their students from school across Kentucky. At least 59 school districts out of 171 have also closed or turned to NTI because of it.

While flu season always brings a wave of illness and school absences, the CDC reports a surge of two seasonal illnesses—flu and RSV have made that wave more intense than in years past.

Parents like Meagan Elam say they are noticing the difference this school year. Her son is a ninth grader in Jessamine County Schools. He's missed 23 days, leading to constant trips to urgent care for doctors' notes.

"Every time I get him over one thing, I send him back to school and within a couple of days, he's coming back home feeling bad, running a fever, throat hurts, ears hurt. He's got a stomach bug. It's been never ending," said Elam.

She has received a truancy warning notice from the school.

Josh Shoulta, director of communications for the Kentucky School Boards Association, says it's a tricky balance for school districts who have to decide when to close schools to try to fight the spread.

"Districts are weighing all these different aspects. There's the capacity issue, there is the student well-being issue. There's a funding component to this as well because districts determine funding in part by a number that's called average daily attendance. The average daily attendance of students this year potentially impacts funding that districts receive next year," said Shoulta.

Only a certain number of days can be used for NTI. With projections of a rough winter, some districts may have to make up days lost due to illness and weather.

November has been a particularly rough month for illness. In one of the largest districts in the state, Fayette County Public Schools, 11% of students were absent on average during the month. Scott County Public Schools had an average absence rate of 5.57% for the month of November.

Shoulta says the 59 Kentucky school districts that have closed or used NTI days sometime in November due to illness have impacted more than 188,200 students.

"That's almost a third of the number of students Kentucky has in public schools and we are just in November. We have a lot of flu season left. We have only begun to scratch the surface with what's supposed to be a very inclement weather season we're going to have in front of us," he said.

Fayette County Public Schools says their attendance is back on the rise.

However, parents expressed to LEX 18 that their children are still getting sick. Many wondered about the letters they received from their schools concerned about their child's absence.

"I just wish that the schools would take into account that most parents do their best to get their kids to school, but if they don't want them there when they're sick, they need to take account for that," said Elam.

Shoulta says concerned parents should keep the line of communication open with their schools.

"Families who may be concerned about the number of absences their student has had so far this year due to illness or unforeseen circumstances, they really just need to keep in constant communication with the district. Make sure you're on the same page in terms of where you make it a critical line," he explained.