Richmond Public Schools report ‘chronic absenteeism’ in first 20 days of virtual learning

Education

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond Public Schools reports about 1 in 5 of its students are on pace to be chronically absent this school year.

In a presentation to the school board Monday, 21.5 percent of students were considered chronically absent as of Oct. 5. The rate is three percent higher than this time last year.

The state defines a student as ‘chronically absent’ if they miss 10 percent or more of the school year.

“It’s heartbreaking and unfortunately, this is one of those challenges we knew we would encounter by being virtual,” said Superintendent Jason Kamras.

School leaders identify three main reasons for the high absence rate. Lack of adult supervision, the school system being unaware of broken technology devices and a rise in crime are all contributing.

Kamras told 8News the majority of absences are coming from elementary school students on the East End and Southside of Richmond. This is unique, Kamras said, because typically, the school system sees more absences in middle and high schools.

“It happening more at the elementary level is an indication to us that the cause is most likely adult supervision issues, not other factors that would normally hold a milddle schooler or high schooler back,” he said.

Some families find it challenging to assist with virtual school when they have to work themselves, resulting older RPS students watching over their younger siblings, according to Kamras.

School leaders said there is hesitation by some parents to take advantage of RPS emergency childcare centers.

“Many families are not opting to utilize the emergency childcare centers for fear of bringing the virus into their homes and infecting vulnerable family members, and/or because they don’t have transportation,” said RPS Chief Schools Officer Harry Hughes at Monday’s school board meeting.

The superintendent said another factor contributing to the absence rate is the failure of families to notify teachers when a laptop or hotspot breaks.

“There will be no charges to any families for broken or lost devices. Please just let your teacher know right away and we will swap it out with a new one,” Kamras said.

School leaders also point to an uptick in violence, particularly in the East End and on the Southside, as having an impact on student attendance.

Kamras said crime can cause students to stay home rather than going to neighborhood learning pods and can take an emotional toll, too. “They’re just not in the mindset to log on because there was a shooting the night before, maybe they heard it, maybe they saw it,” Kamras said.

To combat the issue, Kamras said RPS is making contact with every family having absence issues. An RPS staff member will first call home, and if that does not go through, they will make a home visit using COVID-19 precautions to identify the issue the family is having.

Hughes said RPS is working on individualized attendance plans for the struggling students as well.

“We are humble enough to admit we can use all the help we can get,” said Kamras. If you would like to learn more about volunteering with RPS, click here.

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