RPS sees chronic absenteeism spike with virtual learning

Administration blames virtual learning, increased crime
Updated: Oct. 20, 2020 at 7:28 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Since the start of the virtual school year, about one in five Richmond Public Schools students is now chronically missing class. The issue was widely discussed during a virtual School Board meeting on Monday evening.

School administrators are blaming the pandemic’s shift to online learning and the hurdles it brings, such as a lack of supervision and technology issues.

Kamras says the YMCA of Greater Richmond has expressed wanting to expand childcare centers, but they are being met with challenges.

“They don’t have the staff at this point, that is one of the biggest factors limiting partners' ability to provide the childcare," he explained.

Kamras encourages community members who may be qualified and interested in working in the childcare centers to reach out to the district.

RPS leaders also pointed to a rise in crime in some areas of the city, such as in the East End, which is potentially deterring children from attending learning pods. Kids who were going to small learning groups in their neighborhoods are now purposely staying at home to avoid gun violence, according to some RPS board members.

Right now, chronic absenteeism at RPS, or missing about 10-percent or more of the school year, is at 21 percent, which is up to 3 percent, compared to this time last year.

School administrators say the most significant decline in attendance is happening at the elementary level. Students of working parents are often being watched by older siblings, who attend RPS themselves and are busy with remote learning. A lot of families are not using the emergency childcare centers set up by the school district, out of fear of bringing the virus home. Parents also say they don’t have a way to get their child there in the morning.

Teachers say that when laptops are not working, students often don’t report the problem for several days. In the meantime, the child isn’t logging on for class.

“Some families have shared they are worried that we are going to charge them if their RPS computer breaks - there is a hesitance to let us know about it and sometimes days go by before we find out and kids are missing class and being marked absence," said Superintendent Jason Kamras.

Kamras says he wants families to know they will not be charged for the devices.

The School Board vowed to address the attendance problem urgently, having counselors work with individual families to create plans to get kids online learning consistently.

“The most important thing we can do is make sure we are in touch with every single family struggling, to make this work - we are doing that by deploying 20 family liaisons, social workers, counselors, teachers," he explained.

There will also be 2,500 additional laptops distributed to students by the end of this month, which is a better option for those kids currently using tablets.

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