Absent Peers, Present Challenges: The Differential Impact of In-Person and Virtual Classmate Absences on Future Attendance


Policymakers and educational leaders across state and federal agencies have invested considerable effort in identifying how schools can both mitigate and exacerbate student absenteeism. Despite extensive research into school-level characteristics and programs, there remains a notable gap in understanding the impact of classroom-level factors on absenteeism. This study investigates how classmates' absences impact student absenteeism in four Texas school districts, analyzing both in-person and virtual contexts. Using a novel approach that accounts for day-to-day attendance variation, findings indicate that in-person absenteeism among peers significantly increases a student's absenteeism, with effects lasting up to three days, regardless of achievement levels. However, virtual absenteeism showed no similar impact, highlighting distinct absenteeism dynamics in virtual environments. Amid COVID-19 disruptions, this underscores the need for interventions addressing absenteeism across varied learning settings, offering insights for policymakers and educators in navigating the challenges of both physical and virtual classroom dynamics.