This series, Education Suspended, is about suspensions for truancy and was produced by the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit newsroom dedicated to statewide, data-driven investigative reporting, and The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the AZCIR newsletter and the Hechinger newsletter.



Suspending students for missing class—whether it’s because they showed up late, cut midday or were absent from school entirely—is a controversial tactic. When kids aren’t in class, after all, they often struggle to learn, a reality underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yet, only a third of states prohibit suspending students for attendance-related violations in at least some form, leaving schools in much of the country free to punish most students for missing learning time by forcing them to miss even more. And here in Arizona, the practice is pervasive, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis by the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting and The Hechinger Report.

The analysis, which relied on data from 150-plus districts and charter networks that educate about 61 percent of Arizona’s 1.1 million public school students, found that the majority of those school systems suspended students for attendance-related violations over the past five school years. Together, they assigned nearly 47,000 suspensions during that period, with more than 1 in 5 suspensions served out of school. Totals for Arizona’s full public school population are likely much higher, given that almost 250 school systems failed to produce comprehensive data, or any data at all, under state public records law. 

In this three part series, Education Suspended, the nearly yearlong collaboration between AZCIR’s Maria Polletta and Hechinger’s Tara García Mathewson explores why, in English and Spanish.

Maria Polletta

Investigative Reporter | Education

Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting

Tara García Mathewson

Education Reporter

The Hechinger Report

PART I

Suspending students for absences, tardies compounds learning loss

Suspending students for missing class, whether it’s because they showed up late, cut midday or were absent from school entirely, is a controversial tactic. At least 17 states forbid schools from suspending students for attendance problems at some level—if kids aren’t in class, they aren’t learning. Yet the practice is pervasive in Arizona, a first-of-its-kind AZCIR/Hechinger analysis has found, with students missing tens of thousands of additional school days as a result.

PART II

Overrepresentation of Black, Hispanic students among those suspended for missing school could violate civil rights law

A first-of-its-kind analysis of education data shows that Black, Latino and Native American students are frequently overrepresented among those blocked from class for missing class — what some argue is evidence of a potential civil rights violation. White students, meanwhile, were largely underrepresented.

PART III

In wake of pandemic, some districts take less-punitive approach to absenteeism

Though suspending students for attendance violations is widespread in Arizona, it is not universal—or necessary, according to school and district leaders who have found ways around it. They argue effective alternatives must make school a place students want to be, and treat absenteeism as a problem to solve, rather than a behavior to punish.

METHODOLOGY:

Fazil Khan

Data Reporter

The Hechinger Report


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