Baltimore educators are tracking down students to fight low virtual attendance

Every week, community school site specialist Evan Murray calls Baltimore students at his school who are not logging on for classes.

“If someone is saying, ‘Hey Mr. Murray, I can’t get in touch with this student,’ then I’m like, ‘Just give me the number and I’ll call them,'” he told CNN. “And I call people all the time and parents know, you know, I’ll call you at 7 in the morning. I’ll call you at 9:30 at night. Yeah, I don’t have a problem that.”
Attendance can be a challenge for public school as it is. And with millions of students learning online for at least part of the semester to protect against Covid-19 spread, that challenge has only grown. On the first week of school the daily average of students logging in without interruption was only 65%, said Sonja Santelises, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools.
It’s hard to know if that number is accurate because the 79,187 students enrolled in Baltimore City Public Schools were able to virtually attend class without logging on, district spokesperson Andre Riley told CNN. But going forward, all students will be required to log on.
    Murray said he is making a practice of tracking down students to make sure they sign on and don’t fall behind.
    “We are like MacGyver. We’re gonna do whatever we have to do to try to get the student in class. We want to get these kids in class,” he said.
    Part of the problem is that the pandemic has increased inequities among students. Some students have been exposed to the technologies that they must now rely on, while others have not, Murray said. And unexpected shipping delays on at least 10,000 devices mean that not all students have access to their classes yet, Santelises told WYPR Baltimore Public Radio.
    But technology isn’t the only obstacle.
    School systems across the country are providing free technology and tech support teams, but students are still missing the oversight they would get when they go to a physical campus.
    “The oversight that students have now really are themselves. So the students that are more successful are the students who are diligent and making sure that they are going through the steps,” Murray said.
    The way to make remote learning successful, Murry said, is for everyone in a student’s life to work together and answer the phone when he calls.
    But even when students are in front of the screen, remote learning has faced other problems across the country.
    The Houston Independent School District’s website went down earlier this month as more than 200,000 students began virtual learning, for example. In Florida, the Miami-Dade school district was the victim of a series of cyberattacks.
      Other districts had to delay the start of their year because of issues with overloaded traffic and viruses in the network.
      “In this unprecedented school year, we must remain flexible and quickly adapt to changing conditions and circumstances,” HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan said in a statement.

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