A new state audit has revealed a troubling trend for student attendance records in six North Carolina school districts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The six school districts auditors examined were Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, Johnston County schools, Hyde County schools, Robeson County schools, and Henderson County schools.

“All six school districts did not comply with North Carolina’s Truancy Law during the 2020-2021 school year,” the report concluded. “Specifically, District schools did not perform required actions for students with three, six, and ten or more unexcused absences.”

In late 2021, the NC General Assembly authorized State Auditor Beth Wood to conduct a performance audit that reviewed truancy data.

North Carolina State Auditor Beth Wood, Nov. 2022.

Henderson County was the only school district that could be accurately reviewed because the other districts didn’t keep adequate attendance data, the audit found. Henderson had 1,647 — or 13% — students chronically absent during the 2020-2021 school year. The school district also promoted 1,327 of those students to the next grade or graduated them from high school.

“In my opinion, the whole situation warrarnts further review. The numbers from the OSA report are more than concerning,” said Dr. Robert Luebke, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation. “The NC DPI press release seems unusually combative. One wonders why their points weren’t raised earlier.  If thousands of kids are missing from our schools, we owe it to them and their families to find out why and try to get them back in school.”

The Department of Public Instruction released a statement the same day the audit was released, calling it an “egregious report” that contained a “magnitude of errors.”

“Instead of recommendations to get students back to school, our agency and six of our school districts have been unnecessarily reprimanded,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt in a statement. “Much of how this report was conducted is an example of how state government time and taxpayer dollars and resources should not be used.”

In March 2022, DPI released a report showing crippling learning losses for public school students during the pandemic. The negative effects were most significant for students from low-income families, and the worst subject areas were math and biology.