Some Denver-area school districts aren’t tracking how many students have failed to check in with their teachers or log into their remote-learning programs after the coronavirus closed classroom doors and forced students to learn from home.
Representatives from Jeffco Public Schools and Douglas County School District couldn’t say how many of the more than 150,000 students attending schools in the two districts have not been reached by their teachers since classrooms were shuttered March 16 in an effort to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Cameron Bell, Jeffco Public Schools spokeswoman, said she couldn’t provide hard attendance numbers, but district leaders “are confident most of our students are engaging in the work and continuing their education.”
Paula Hans, Douglas County School District spokeswoman, said that while teachers aren’t taking attendance the way they normally would, they are monitoring student participation in areas like task completion, check-ins with their teachers and engagement in “live” video class sessions.
“DCSD school administration, counselors and teachers will continue efforts to reach out to families when students are not engaging in learning opportunities,” Hans said.
On March 13, Westminster Public Schools began handing out laptops to students to prepare them for at-home learning amid school closures. As of Monday, 80% of Westminster students had checked in with their teachers, said Stephen Saunders, spokesman for the district.
The Westminster district doesn’t have an exact count of the students who have yet to make contact with their teachers, but continues to reach out to families about resources they may need, Saunders said.
Officials with the Cherry Creek School District did not immediately respond to an information request.
While individual teachers and schools are working to reach students who have yet to check in, without districtwide numbers it’s difficult to judge the scope of students who may have slipped through the cracks in the abrupt switch to distance-based learning that followed the closure of schools across the Denver metro area for the remainder of the academic year.
Many districts are being flexible, adapting their typical attendance policies for such unprecedented times with the understanding that families’ circumstances during the COVID-19 pandemic will impact how and when children are able to learn.
“Superintendent Dr. (Jason) Glass and district leadership have provided guidance to, and set expectations for, our schools, and charged our education professionals with developing systems within their individual school communities for ensuring every student is engaged in the learning, that no student is left out, and that every effort is being made to ensure we are reaching all students,” said Bell, of Jeffco Public Schools, one of the first districts in the state to move to remote learning.
Not every school in the district is using the same platform to measure student participation and engagement, Bell said. Schools and teachers have been encouraged to do what works best for their class, whether that’s Google Classroom, Schoology or a paper-and-pen-based system.
“Because of this shift to a flexible, asynchronous model, we do not have hard attendance numbers in the traditional sense,” Bell said.
One Jeffco elementary school teacher, who spoke to The Denver Post on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said she had just checked in her last two unaccounted-for students Tuesday, tracking them down after several phone calls from the administration.
One family thought summer break had already begun, she said.
The Jeffco teacher said about a dozen students in her school still haven’t been heard from in the three weeks since remote learning began in the district, with at least five of them lacking internet access.
Most districts, including Jeffco, have provided help with access to technology and internet for families who may lack the resources.
Tuesday marked the first day of remote learning for students in Denver Public Schools, the largest district in the state. On Friday, Superintendent Susana Cordova said during a news conference that school teams will work to take attendance daily.
“Not for the purposes of hoping to get perfect attendance but to make sure we’re engaged with our students and make sure we can reach out to families about the supports they need,” Cordova said.
Some students may be unable to do school work on certain days of the week depending on their families’ situations, which Cordova said DPS understood. She asked families to keep teachers updated about their circumstances and students’ whereabouts so the school would at least know the kids are OK.
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