School attendance rates for term 1 plummeted below 50 per cent - the lowest in at least a decade, as the Omicron outbreak ripped through communities.
Record low levels of school attendance hit Māori and Pasifika hardest with fewer than a third of those populations attending school regularly (attending more than 90 per cent of the time).
The latest Ministry of Education data showed overall 46.1 per cent of all students were attending school regularly.
This was down from 72.8 per cent in term 1 2019, pre-Covid, 50.5 per cent in 2020 and 66.8 per cent in 2021. In term 4 last year it was 65 per cent.
The Ministry noted the Covid-19 Omicron outbreak resulted in "high levels of absences for both students and staff".
"Schools were also impacted by higher levels of typical winter illness from March, causing additional absences.
"Altogether, this has resulted in record-high student absences coded as 'short-term
The Herald recently revealed in March alone nearly 120,000 students - about 15 per cent - contracted Covid-19.
The outbreak hit teachers hard too, with over a third of all teachers having caught the virus - by mid-June - and sick leave claimed up over 50 per cent on this time last year.
According to the Ministry, in every week of term 1 this year the percentage of time students were absent due to short-term illness/medical reasons was higher than every week in 2019 to 2021.
The figures come after Associate Education Minister Jan Tinetti in June announced a strategy to turn around attendance levels that have been steadily declining since 2015 and made worse by Covid.
The fall has been across every decile, year level, ethnicity and region, with the biggest drop among primary and intermediate kids.
The new target is for 70 per cent of students to be regularly attending by 2024 and 75 per cent by 2026.
Chronic absence - missing at least three days per fortnight - has also been rising, with almost 8 per cent of students now chronically absent. The strategy aims to cut that number to 5 per cent by 2024 and 3 per cent by 2026.
Tinetti did not provide any new comment when asked about the latest drop in attendance numbers.
Her office referred to a past press release about introducing attendance targets and an engagement strategy.
National Party education spokeswoman Erica Stanford said the data for students in decile 1-3 schools was even more alarming, with fewer than one-third recording full attendance.
"In addition, more than 100,000 students were chronically absent from school, meaning they attended less than 70 per cent of school time.
"That is a staggering rise from 68,000 in term four of last year, and 38,000 back in 2017.
"These students are at the greatest risk of becoming even more disengaged with education, which will have serious consequences for their futures."