GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan schools are operating without any major restrictions, but it appears the COVID-19 pandemic is still playing a role in attendance data.

A report released this fall by the Michigan Department of Education shows overall attendance in the 2021-22 school year was 88.8% across the state, down from 92.9% in the 2020-21 school year. It’s the first time in at least six years that the attendance rate has dropped below 90% — and likely the first time since the MDE started tracking that data in 2011.

State Superintendent Michael Rice called attention to the figures, saying they show that it’s imperative for parents and schools to work together.

“Students need more instructional time, especially vulnerable students such as those who are economically disadvantaged, students with disabilities and English learners,” Rice said in a release. “I encourage parents and districts to work together to focus on student attendance so that they can make the best use of the time that is available to them.”

In West Michigan, the drop appears consistent across all districts, rural, urban and suburban alike. The Ottawa Area Intermediate School District had the largest drop at 3.5% (94.2% to 90.7%).

Of the 10 county-level school districts in West Michigan, only one saw attendance grow during the 2021-22 school year: The Van Buren Intermediate School District, which grew from 89% to 89.1%.

(Illustration by Matt Jaworowski/WOOD TV8)

Attendance dropped in the Kent Intermediate School District by 3.4% — 93.8% to 90.4%. Joy Walczak, a spokesperson for the Kent ISD, said the organization is keeping a close eye on its attendance rates but attributed the drop primarily to pandemic challenges and believes it should bounce back in the coming years.

“It’s important to understand (the 2021-22 data) isn’t an accurate comparison to the prior year since the data isn’t consistent,” Walczak told News 8. “During the peak of the pandemic, the state of Michigan had a different definition of ‘in attendance’ than the traditional definition that has been used outside of the pandemic. During remote learning, schools had to log two-way interactions between the student and staff to count as ‘in-attendance’ for a five-day period. Traditionally, a student has to be at school each day to be counted as ‘in-attendance.’”

Many schools adjusted to remote learning on the fly during the 2020-21 school year, but it was used less during the 2021-22 year. Still, there were plenty of students that missed school after testing positive for COVID-19 or needing to isolate or quarantine.

“Coming out of the pandemic, schools are proactively working with individual students and families to improve attendance,” Walczak said. “We have found some students have struggled to adjust to consistent in-person schooling and we are working to provide necessary support for students and families to increase their attendance.”

You can compare data between school districts at the MI School Data website.