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1/25/2024 McNamara legislation looks to combat the high rate of school absenteeism due to asthma
STATE HOUSE — While young children are chronically absent from school for a variety of reasons, asthma seems to be a leading cause, which has prompted Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) to introduce legislation looking to combat the crisis.

The bill (2024-H 7195) would authorize a one-year pilot program during the 2024-2025 school year that would provide outreach and tracking at two public high schools and two public middle schools to address issues of asthma and attendance among students.

“Students who are frequently absent are far more likely to miss important learning opportunities, are less likely to stay engaged, and are of far greater risk of dropping out,” said Representative McNamara, who chairs the House Education Committee. “School absenteeism has become a national crisis, with 12% of all elementary school students being chronically absent, with impoverished families suffering the most. This has become such an educational priority that we need to find more creative ways to address the problem.”

According to the Rhode Island Kids Count Fact Book, asthma is a leading cause of school absenteeism, accounting for one-third of all absences in the state. Under the legislation, the pilot program would aim to learn what can be done to reduce student absences due to asthma, with a particular focus on chronic absenteeism due to asthma and the conditions within a school building that may contribute to incidents of asthma.

Community health workers would be assigned to specific schools and coordinate with the school nurse teachers to collect data and monitor, on a daily basis, student absences within the school, and identify those absences caused by asthma.

During the 2021-2022 school year, 34% of Rhode Island kindergarten students, 32% of first graders, 30% of second graders, and 29% of third graders were chronically absent (i.e., absent 18 days or more). Thirty-one percent of all Rhode Island children in grades K-3 were chronically absent.

The pilot program would involve the Department of Health, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the state office of Medicaid, and the Rhode Island Data Hub. The team would report its findings and recommendations to the governor and the General Assembly by Nov. 7, 2025.

The bill has been referred to the House Education Committee.

For more information, contact:
Daniel Trafford, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903