When the bells ring in schools across Hamilton County on Monday morning, thousands of students who should be at their desks likely won't even be in school.
If recent attendance patterns hold, about 3,000 of the county's 42,000 public school students won't be counted when teachers take roll on the first day of classes. Most of those missing on Day 1 will be enrolled and in school within a week, yet hundreds more will not show up until they have lost as much as three weeks of instruction. Their absence puts them far behind classmates with little hope of ever catching up and makes it more difficult for their schools and the district to meet testing goals.
"If you want school to count, it's hard to deal with," said Hedy Chang, director of Attendance Works, a national initiative working to address chronic absence in schools.
"How do you keep everybody on the same page if students are trickling in? It makes teaching much more difficult."
A review of the last five years of enrollment data shows a consistent pattern of students arriving well after official start dates. Last year, more than 2,700 students, or about 6.5 percent of students, weren't in school on the first day.