RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond Public Schools is reporting an alarming uptick in the number of students missing school this year.

In its latest report, RPS shows 27.7% of students are “chronically absent,” meaning they’ve missed more than 10% of the school year so far.

Compared to the past five years, these absences have grown exponentially, with chronic absences hitting under 20% last year.

In a presentation to the board, Dr. Shardae Davis, the district’s Chief Engagement Officer, said this school year has presented “unique” challenges for families.

“We have heard stories and encounters about how challenging this year is,” Davis said. “While we will share what we are doing to make sure we can do whatever to help students. We also owe it to ourselves to be realistic.”

Davis explained that concerns over the coronavirus are still plaguing the Richmond school district, and disproportionately impacting communities of color. As of Tuesday night, more than 20 percent of these chronic absences stem from quarantine requirements. Additionally, families express concern over sending their child to school amid classroom outbreaks.

Richmond’s School Board voted to uphold the district’s existing mask mandate despite Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s mask order. (Mask hanging on locker photo: Tyler Thrasher 8News)

“We hear from families when those quarantine letters come home, that causes a fear for families,” Davis said. “That fear is real.”

RPS adds that an increase in neighborhood violence has also sent shockwaves through the district. In 2021, the homicide rate in the city surpassed that of the last 15 years.

“During 2021, we’ve had over 90 homicides — 9 being RPS students,” Davis said. “This is leading families to not want to send kids to school or thinking the next day does my child have a safe path to school?”

So, what’s being done about this?

RPS says they want to keep these challenges at the forefront and be realistic about their approach to responding. However, the focus is on clear and consistent communication with families, including community walks, community conversations, and reminder messages.