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Hillsborough Schools: Nearly 99 percent of students are learning remotely

Pockets of absenteeism exist in highly immigrant communities.
 
Jackson Elementary School teacher Aviva Baker stocked her car with children's books and other necessities as she transitioned to distance learning during the COVID-19 crisis. Attendance at her school improved sharply from the first to the second week.
Jackson Elementary School teacher Aviva Baker stocked her car with children's books and other necessities as she transitioned to distance learning during the COVID-19 crisis. Attendance at her school improved sharply from the first to the second week. [ Handout ]
Published April 10, 2020|Updated April 10, 2020

TAMPA — The numbers are in and they need a big caveat, but they look impressive:

Close to 99 percent of students in the Hillsborough County School District are taking part, in one way or another, in distance learning during the COVID-19 crisis.

The caveat is that attendance during pandemic learning is not the same as attendance in normal times. Students who were counted present have “engaged with their teachers either by completing assignments online, through paper packets or by way of weekly phone calls,” according to a notice from the district.

And there are pockets of absenteeism that the district is working to address, primarily in agricultural communities with large numbers of immigrant families.

In Plant City, Bryan Elementary counted 110 of its 734 students absent in the first week and 157 in the second week. At Jackson Elementary, also in Plant City, 122 out of 555 students were absent the first week, then 45 absent the second week. At Shields Middle in Ruskin, there were 101 students absent the first week out of a total of 1,849, but only 44 absent the second week.

These numbers could reflect a number of factors. In some communities, migrant farm workers might have left the area without formally withdrawing their children from school. And the schools had a limited supply of laptops to loan out, causing some families to wait a week or more, which could explain the improvements.

There were also large numbers of schools with 100 percent participation, including schools in some of Tampa’s poorest neighborhoods.

Overall, Superintendent Addison Davis celebrated the statistics and vowed to reach out to all those who have not made contact.

“We are leveraging teachers, administrators, school counselors, social workers, and school psychologists to reach out to students who have not engaged into virtual learning," he said in a prepared statement. “All staff members will work collaboratively to devise an immediate plan to connect with our learners and identify proactive solutions to engage them academically.”

The district uses these methods to determine participation: Monitoring log-ins on Edsby, its communications hub; identifying log-ins students who have uploaded assignments to Edsby; assessing participation in classroom meetings and conferences; and capturing the names of students who submit paper worksheets workbook pages.

The numbers do not take into account how many days they worked; and assignments often are weekly, as teachers are trying to be mindful that families are juggling schedules and sharing computers. Nor are there there punitive measures for students marked absent, district spokeswoman Tanya Arja said.