Lawrence district’s attendance hasn’t dropped during remote learning, officials say; measures to address absenteeism are in the works

photo by: Meeting screenshot/Lawrence school board

Data provided to the Lawrence school board on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, shows roughly 95% of students in middle school and high school attended their classes during the district's first week of remote learning. The district is expected to continue providing education through fully remote learning until mid-October.

After finishing its first week of remote learning, the Lawrence school district has seen its student attendance levels come in close to what it would expect during a typical school year, district officials said Monday. But the district is taking steps to be able to respond to absenteeism if it becomes a problem later in the semester.

During its update to the Lawrence school board, the district’s school reopening task force reported that roughly 95% of students have been logging into their classes during the first week of school, which began on Sept. 8. When asked how that compares to a typical school year where students are attending classes in person, Zachary Conrad, executive director for research, evaluation and accountability, said the results appear to be slightly better.

“We’re a little above,” Conrad said, noting he did not immediately have the exact numbers from previous years. “It’s about where we would expect it to be, according to years past.”

Attendance levels during the remote learning are important this year, as the school district will need to conduct its official enrollment count during that period. The official student enrollment count date is Sept. 21, which is the count that dictates how much funding the school district receives from the state.

The school district started its school year with six weeks of fully remote learning and is not expected to return to classrooms until mid-October at the earliest. Additionally, Conrad said the district was recently given new state guidance on how students should be counted. The guidance requires the district to collect data on how it is providing “daily meaningful contact” to students.

While attendance has not yet been an issue this semester, the school district is working to launch a new partnership with Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center to make sure students who are not attending classes do not slip through the cracks. Judi Rodman, of Bert Nash, told the board the program will employ staff members who will be able to provide at-home check-ins on students and help address social and emotional issues that may be contributing to absences.

The district is also working on launching new student support centers at school buildings, which will provide in-person supervision for some students during the school day. Deputy Superintendent Anna Stubblefield said the program aims to help address child care issues in the district, which she previously told the Journal-World the district was working on.

The proposed support centers would be located at the district’s 11 elementary schools that are not being used for the Boys & Girls Club school-day program, and would be limited to 15 students per site. Stubblefield said the district hopes to launch the program next week.

The school district is scheduled to continue fully remote learning until at least the week of Oct. 19. How the district will continue education after that will be decided during the board’s next meeting on Sept. 28.

In other business, the board:

• Formally recognized the recently created paraeducators union, PAL-CWA, by opting into the Public Employer-Employee Relations Act, a state law regarding public employee unions.

• Approved student fees for the 2020-21 school year. The approved fees are identical to the fees that were charged for the 2019-20 school year, which apply to students in certain courses and extracurricular activities. For example, the district’s welding course includes a $20 course fee, while all sports have a $50 participation fee.

• Heard a report on the district’s efforts to improve racial equity in the district, such as providing staff training related to conversations about race and culturally relevant teaching, among other initiatives. The report was also expected to include information on the district’s effort to recruit and retain teachers of color, but Stubblefield said district administration plans to discuss that with the board in more depth at a future board meeting.

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