Statewide, 1 in 4 students failed to participate in remote education between March and June when schools were closed to limit the spread of COVID-19.
In other words, 25 percent of students were chronically absent compared to a typical school year, according to data provided by the state Department of Education, when about 10 percent of students are chronically absent.
So, with about 1 in 4 students choosing to study remotely this fall, state and local administrators have expressed concern that a high rate of absenteeism will continue into the new school year.
But when students are not actually attending class, what exactly does it mean to be absent?
On Friday, the Connecticut Department of Education Deputy Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker released formal guidance to school districts defining an absence for students enrolled in distance learning.
“A remote student can be considered as being ‘in attendance’ on a particular day if the total time spent on one or more of the following activities equals at least half the school day,” according to the Department of Education.
Qualifying activities include synchronous virtual classes, synchronous virtual meetings, time logged in electronic systems and assignment submission and completion.
To be counted as “in attendance,” for at least three and a half hours each day, students must attend a live online class, videoconference or speak on the telephone with a teacher, counselor or paraprofessional, or work on an assignment. According to the department, this guidance was developed with input from national organizations, several states, and school districts in Connecticut.
Because participation in many of these activities – especially assignment work and completion – is self-reported, some districts, including Lyme-Old Lyme schools, provided additional instruction to their families.
“Families are responsible to supervise and support daily student attendance and engagement. Students will be considered present unless parents report otherwise. If weekly work deadlines are not met, parents will be informed by a staff member and students will be marked absent for state reporting purposes,” according to guidance released by Lyme-Old Lyme schools.
The Department of Education said that it is encouraging local school officials to reach out to parents when a student is “absent,” without notice, just as they would during a typical school year. Local officials are expected to notify the Department of Education if the family cannot be reached.
With just a few students learning remotely in the fall, 5.5 percent of students marked chronically absent in 2018-19, and virtually none in the spring, this strategy will likely work well for smaller districts like Lyme-Old Lyme which have opted to resume classroom education.
For larger districts like New Haven that have opted for a distance-only model of instruction, the challenge of contacting each family could be insurmountable. Typically about 20 percent of students in New Haven schools are marked chronically absent and 70 percent failed to participate this spring.
According to Superintendent of Old Saybrook Public Schools Jan Perruccio, the State has directed local school officials to work with the families.
“We have planned for teachers to conduct the first outreach if a student is missing from remote learning,” explained Perruccio, “If they are unable to successfully connect with the family and engage the student in class, they are to involve an administrator.”
Perruccio said that if “we have a family that does not comply with attendance after all potential issues have been addressed – connectivity, device access, understanding about commitment – then we will seek guidance from the State about how to proceed.”
Students who have more than four unexcused absences in one month or ten in one year will be counted as truants. This fall, according to the State Department of Education, schools will be required to meet with a student’s parent or guardian within ten days after a student is defined as a truant.