By Tammy Murga & Caleb Lunetta
William S. Hart Union High School District officials said Thursday they’re relying on individual school sites to track attendance while students are distance learning online, and there’s been no discussion of changing the district’s policy on absences.
The California Department of Education is not requiring schools to take attendance during distance learning, instead allowing districts to decide their own attendance policies, according to officials with the Los Angeles County Office of Education. The county did also not have any updated guidelines for attendance as of Thursday.
A school district’s funding largely comes from the average daily attendance, also known as ADA funding, which is determined by each school’s attendance. Due to the emergency situation, state officials are planning to use data from July 1, 2019, to Feb. 29, 2020, according to county officials.
“There are no specific requirements from the California Department of Education for districts to track (attendance) or have students log in,” said Margot Minecki, a public information officer with the LACOE. “And then as far as other types of attendance tracking, it’s on a district-by-district basis. They have their own policy.”
When asked if the county was tracking attendance for the 80 school districts LACOE oversees, Minecki stated it would likely not be tracking that information.
“It’s teacher by teacher, and since each district is going to be doing it differently, it’s going to look different in 80 districts,” said Minecki.
Hart District officials said Thursday the district as a whole was not tracking attendance, but individual school sites were. Linda Storli, president of the Hart District board, said the district’s attendance policy remained unchanged during the period known as distance learning, but that attendance was not being tracked in the traditional manner.
“The teacher keeps track of those logged in,” said Storli. “Each class is not taught every day. Within the week the students get all of their classes. All schools (Bowman excluded) have under 5% no-shows.”
A month ago, Hart District data tracking nonparticipation showed an estimated 424 students within the district had not used their login for each class, but as of last week, that figure had dropped to 184 out of the estimated 22,000 students in the district.
Figures revealed that the highest drop in the nonparticipation tally was at Hart High School, with a tally of about 105 students three weeks ago to 22 students not participating to date. Golden Valley High School also saw a large drop, with an estimated 89 previously to 16 current nonparticipants.
Bowman High School appeared to have remained the same, with a tally of 98, while Saugus High School saw a slight increase from 19 to 28 nonparticipants.
Students are expected to remain online for an average of 45 minutes per class, according to Storli. She added that the district has been diligent in ensuring all students have the resources they need to do so.
“There’s not a student that we haven’t contacted to see if we can help them with a laptop or set up internet. We’ve even had people go to homes and knock on the door and try to figure out what we can do to help,” Storli said, “and I think that everyone is covered with any devices that they need.”
A Hart District news release did not address the consequences for the 184 students the district has not seen in a classroom, as of Thursday.
In less than two days in mid-March, near the start of school closures, more than 3,100 Chromebooks were distributed districtwide, officials said. To date, a total of 4,000 have been handed out to students in need, the board president added.
While the district’s response to ensuring students have the tools they need to continue learning has been swift, Storli also acknowledged the situation is unprecedented, and a stressful time for teachers, students and their families alike.
Laura Arrowsmith, an 11th-grade advanced placement U.S. history teacher at West Ranch High School and a Saugus Union School District board member, said there was a steep learning curve for both herself and her students. However, she said they’re adapting and making adjustments in real time.
For Arrowsmith, her students, who are preparing for a College Board test next month, have already been given a general outline of what their AP test essay question is going to look like. Now, each day, they review the material they’ve learned during the year.
Through videos and documents, the students are engaging with the material from their homes, Arrowsmith said.
“There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes logistical stuff that has nothing to do with going live or making a video,” said Arrowsmith, in regard to the difficulties in distance learning.
“I taught myself how to get a video and put it online,” she said, “I did not know how to do that a month ago.”
In terms of attendance, Arrowsmith said she is not taking daily attendance, but is rather measuring a student’s participation by their communication with her and completion of assignments. However, the faculty of West Ranch High School is using a “flexible finish line” model, which allows students to turn in work past the deadline.
“We’ve been told from the beginning that we’re to accept work after any deadline,” said Arrowsmith. “We should give students at least a week to finish things … so it’s not as much a due date or very time-bound, but it’s more of an ‘asynchronous model’ where students progress and do work when they can.”
Students, according to Gabbie Go, a junior at West Ranch High School, were given a schedule that’s helpful.
“I think I’m really glad that the district gave us a schedule because I’m hearing that some other schools don’t even get schedules,” said Go. “I say it takes me about two, three hours per day to go through school and then homework — depends on if I get distracted or not.”
The distraction of being at home, according to a number of students, is their biggest obstacle when it comes to completing their work.
“The worst part is the distractions that come with being at home,” said Justin Collier, an 11th-grader at Valencia High School. “Since I’m used to studying in a classroom environment and relaxing at home, it was difficult for my brain to remember that being home doesn’t mean relaxing all the time.”
Collier said he prefers learning in a school environment, as did his little brother, Johnny, a Hart District eighth-grader.
“The best part is that the school day is shorter because of distance learning,” said Johnny. “The worst part is, that it seems like we are given more homework because we are at home for longer.”