CLEVELAND — Numbers from the Ohio Department of Education show more than 15% of schools in the state reported half their students were chronically absent in the 2020-2021 school year.
In Northeast Ohio, Euclid City Schools reported a 72.7% absentee rate while Lorain City was at 63% and CMSD tipped over the halfway mark at 54%.
The report from ODOE said students are chronically absent when "they miss at least 10% of their total attendance hours reported in a district or school."
But one school at the top of the list pushed back against the data. Leaders from the Promise Academy in downtown Cleveland said its students are working, just outside of typical school hours.
"They humble me every day," said Dr. Heidi Rock, the principal at the school. The Promise Academy is a small school made for second chances.
"They still have the same desires as their typical peers, they've just had to go about it in a very different manner," said Kathryn Parks.
She is the Director of School Culture. A typical student at the school is between 15- to 22-years-old, "and that student often is a parent, taking care of parents or grandparents. They are often working full-time jobs," Parks said.
The learning structure there is personalized for what each student needs. It allows them to work for their high school diploma at their own pace.
"We have some students who log in at three in the morning," Rock said. "Which isn't during school hours, so it doesn't count for attendance, right?"
Those irregular learning hours are why the school has a 99.8% chronic absentee rate from the state. Only nine other schools in Ohio have a higher number.
Rock and Parks said the numbers fail to account for their students who work outside of normal school hours.
"Those students were still managing to find education as an importance in their life," Parks said.
Deshawn Wells is one of those students putting education at the forefront. He's a full-time student and has a full-time job.
"It's actually ... stressful," he said.
Wells had to fight to spend three consecutive days at the Promise Academy learning each week. The other four days, he's a work.
For him, no days off means each day finished is one closer to his goal.
"I'm here to learn. I'm here to get this out of the way," he said. "I'm 20 years old. I want to finish it out while I still can."
While school leaders set goals for students, they've also set goals for themselves. Parks and Rock know that absenteeism statistics is an issue, so they spent September re-focusing their students. School leaders want students to buy into the learning process and complete their goals.
"I do want to go to college and become a writer," Wells said.