How much school students attend is a powerful indicator of their wellbeing and a strong predictor of their future success in school. Popular media has reported significant increases in chronic absenteeism during the first full school year of the COVID-19 pandemic (2020-21). This sequential explanatory mixed-methods study describes how experiences during the pandemic and socioeconomic circumstances in general shaped Detroit student attendance during this critical school year and how the district responded to attendance issues. We found that 70% of students were chronically absent, with 40% of parents reporting that computer problems contributed to absenteeism. Despite significant investment in technology, the district’s strategies for engaging students were not sufficient in overcoming economic hardships and the new challenges of remote learning.