Head Counselor Juan "Wicho" Flores of the Logan Memorial Educational Campus sits in his office in Logan Heights on March 15, 2023.
Head Counselor Juan "Wicho" Flores of the Logan Memorial Educational Campus sits in his office in Logan Heights on March 15, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

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Juan “Wicho” Flores has lived in Logan Heights since the ‘70s and remembers junkyards lining streets in the area. Pollution from the Port’s heavy industry, something residents have long pushed back on and with mixed success, have left a lasting impact on the majority Latino community. 

The 92113 ZIP code, which runs from Barrio Logan through Logan Heights and to Lincoln Park has some of the highest levels of asthma-related hospital visits in the state. 

Flores and all four of his children have asthma. “That’s just in one household. It’s kind of become generational,” he said. Flores, who now works as the head counselor at the newly opened Logan Memorial Education Campus in Logan Heights, thinks that history weighed heavily on local parents during the Covid pandemic and influenced the precipitous rise in the area’s chronic absenteeism rates. 

People stand in front of Perkins Elementary School in Logan Heights on March 14, 2023.
People stand in front of Perkins Elementary School in Logan Heights on March 14, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Covid can be worsened by pre-existing respiratory illnesses like asthma, so the level of fear in the community was high, Flores said. “If your child is suffering from asthma, and they’re prone to catching Covid and making matters worse for them, (some parents) are going to want to keep their kid home,” he said.  

The impact the pandemic had on the area is undeniable. The ZIP code 92113, where Logan Memorial is located, and surrounding areas had some of the highest death rates in the county.  

“Unfortunately, a lot of our families, a lot of our neighbors, lost relatives, lost their friends, lost their abuelitas, their tios,” Flores said. From the trauma of death to parents losing jobs and potentially their homes, it all affected children as well as parents. 

What we found: Seven of the 15 San Diego Unified schools with the highest chronic absenteeism districtwide are in the 92113 ZIP code. Chronic absenteeism is when a student misses 10 percent or more of instructional days in a year. (Click here to view a map of 92113 schools in a new tab.)

Of the 10 schools in 92113 we gathered data about for the recent Parents Guide to San Diego Schools, all but one had levels of chronic absenteeism well above the district average. Chronic Absenteeism rates are also well above the district average at every school that feeds into Logan Memorial’s high school. 

Some schools like Rodriguez Elementary saw chronic absenteeism rates triple. Seventy-six percent of students at that school are chronically absent – over 40 percent higher than the district average. 

How we got here: But like almost everything in education, socioeconomic factors play an outsized role. The ZIP code 92113 has the lowest median income level of any in the county, and poverty has been repeatedly linked to increased levels of chronic absenteeism. 

“The parents that we cater to that are our neighbors have to maintain two, three jobs, and historically there’s those kids who have nobody around to tell them to go to school. It just comes up for (the student) to make that decision of should I go to school or not,” Flores said. 

This problem is not new. A troubling number of students in the area have missed school for decades. But in the years before Covid hit, Flores felt like educators were doing better building rapport with families and addressing the social-emotional aspects of absenteeism. The county and city have provided more resources, but some in the community hesitate to access them because of fears related to their immigration status, Flores said. 

Laura Rodriguez Elementary School in Logan Heights on March 10, 2023.
Laura Rodriguez Elementary School in Logan Heights on March 10, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

“Now that Covid has kind of come and gone it’s left us with this mess, a mental crisis, where a lot of our students who were not suffering are now suffering. And it’s going to be a lifelong situation for them,” he said. 

Chronic absenteeism is a complex, intractable issue. Free transit for students helps, and there’s always a need for “more boots on the ground” when it comes to outreach, but Flores said there’s no silver bullet. 

The closest thing he could come up with is more robustly educating the community that the best place for their child to be is in school. “Because if there’s a need for mental health support, we could help provide it. We could link up to resources. But if the child’s not here, we don’t know what the what the need is,” he said. 

“My number one priority for a child, which even trumps them getting educated with their ABCs, and one, two, threes, is having them feel safe – mentally, emotionally, and physically.” 

More on chronic absenteeism: Post-pandemic chronic absenteeism is bad. But the bad news isn’t evenly distributed. Many of the schools with the highest levels are below state Route 94, and even clustered in one ZIP code. Read my latest story here.

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Jakob McWhinney

Jakob McWhinney is Voice of San Diego's education reporter.

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1 Comment

  1. I would respectfully disagree with the counselor, all parents want their kids to succeed and low income immigrant parents know that the best (maybe the only way) for their children to end the cycle of poverty is to get a sound education. As taxpayers we need to hold school districts accountable. Or offer school vouchers so kids can get a decent education.

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