(CALMATTERS) – It would seem that the kids are not all right.

The day after he secured a landslide victory in the Sept. 14 recall election, Gov. Gavin Newsom visited an Oakland school to tout the state’s progress in reopening campuses, noting that 95% to 100% of students in most districts had returned to in-person instruction. But that picture was complicated by a Monday EdSource report that found many districts are experiencing a massive uptick in chronic absenteeism — students who miss more than 10% of school days. Since the school year started:

  • 46% of students at Thermalito Union Elementary, a rural district serving mostly low-income families in Butte County, have been chronically absent — up from 8.8% two years ago.
  • 39% of Stockton Unified students have been chronically absent — more than double the rate two years ago.
  • Almost 33% of Oakland Unified students have been chronically absent.
  • More than 26% of Elk Grove Unified students have been chronically absent.

Experts say the staggering numbers are due partly to kids in quarantine, who are counted absent if they don’t log on every day and complete their assignments. Another possible reason for the skyrocketing absenteeism: a surge in families who want their children to continue learning remotely. Many of the 15,000 Los Angeles Unified students who signed up for the district’s independent study program have encountered snafus that blocked them from attending school for days or even weeks, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The problem is especially acute for students with disabilities. Newsom is expected to soon sign legislation clarifying that students with special needs can continue accessing services remotely — but some have already gone more than a month without any instruction or specialized care, as CalMatters has reported.

“What keeps me up at night is all these kids losing out on high-quality instruction, falling behind, falling through the cracks.”

Lisa Cruikshank, Thermalito Union’s director of special projects

Further complicating matters is California’s shortage of teachers and substitutes. A whopping 37% of positions in Los Angeles Unified are currently filled by substitutes — who, under state law, must be transferred to different students after 30 days. The sheer chaos and difficulty of setting up a reliable staffing plan is one reason why many districts this year won’t be able to deliver on Newsom and lawmakers’ $5 billion plan to address learning loss through expanded school days and summer programs.