IMHO: Get students back to in-person learning as soon as possible

Pittsboro, NC – Below is the letter Chatham County resident Mia Munn submitted to the Chatham County school board members prior to their special committee meeting on Tuesday evening.

I’m not going to make public comments tonight, but I wanted you to know my thoughts. 

photo by freepik

Attached is the info Mr. McCann provided to me and my analysis. I urge you to get students, particularly EC, K-3, 6th grade, and 9th grade back in person as soon as possible.

Summary of the answers:

  • Enrollment is down 2.5% from last year (when you would expect it to be up). That decline will cost the district at least $1.4M in state funds. (I’m sure it is much higher, but I haven’t dug through the 20/21 budget)
  • Absences are averaging 10.5%, more than double last year’s 4.1%
  • At least 551 households have requested a hotspot to help with internet access and haven’t received one. If that is one student per household and no duplication (though Mr McCann said there was some duplication, so the number is higher), that is >6% of students.
  • 78% of students are NOT enrolled in the Virtual Academy, so those parents expected there to be in-person instruction this semester.

Questions and summarized answers and my responses

Question 1. No attendance or enrollment records are online after the Day 10 report. What is the current enrollment (how has it changed since Day 10 enrollment 8842)?
Month 1 not posted at request of DPI to delay. Sept 22 enrollment is 8763, down 74 from Day 10. Data is available at Prior year data is there but need to scroll down (on my computer – not visible on first two screens, with several inches of white space between each section.)

My comment: This is down 21 or 2.5% from Month 1 enrollment last year. I would attribute 100% of this to parents turning to homeschooling because of online school. Based on 2018/19 state funding (from DPI site), that represents a loss of $1.4M to CCS. Since enrollment has been steadily growing for years, I would expect the lost to the 20/21 budget is significantly more. I also expect this loss of enrollment to increase if 100% online school continues through the first semester).

Question 2. What is the attendance through month 1, and how does that compare to last year? (None of last year’s reports are online – in the past, multiple years were available on the website. If that data was online, I could do the comparison myself)
Response: Using unapproved numbers (since state asked them to be held), current absence rate is 10.5% compared to last year’s 4.1%. Attendance may increase since, per DPI, if student turn’s in day’s assignments, they are counted present even if they didn’t log on to class meeting. Plan C attendance guidelines are here…/1xCOy2ve…/edit ADM is found on DPI website (select month, then you have to filter to Chatham)…/dem…/student-accounting-data.

Here is a sample attendance summary for September 14 that was shared with the Board of Education. We do not develop daily attendance sheets like this but typically rely on the monthly PMR report to give us attendance data. Since we don’t have one yet this year, we made this report for the Board of Education.

Typically we see around 4% to 6% absentee rate. Sometimes in flu season it will be 8-10%

My comment: This year’s absence rate is 256% of last year’s. In one way, that is good news – some large districts are averaging 1/3 or more absences. On the other hand, more than 10% of kids are missing school every day. Again, I expect this number will increase as students and parents get increasingly frustrated with online education, particularly when they don’t have reliable internet.

Question 3. How many families have requested technology (either chromebooks/laptops or hot spots) and have not yet received it?
Response: Chromebooks – 3,949 applications (by student) received as of 09.28.20, and all have received their Chromebook. As of 09.09.2020 – over 7,800 students have a CCS-issued device (including high school 1:1). Hot Spots – 1,320 applications (by household) received as of 09.28.2020. 769 hotspots have been distributed to families. The distribution process represents exchanging some devices for families who find limited connectivity for a service provider. A small number of duplicates are included in this number as these changes are made. CCS continues to distribute a small number of devices each week.
My comment: assuming no duplication, when we know there is duplication, 551 households have requested a hotspot and have not received one yet, more than 10% through the school year. Even if there is only one student per household, that means more than 6% of students don’t have a hot spot to use the internet at their house. I believe that number is much higher, due to duplication in the numbers and multiple students in each family.

Question 4. What portion of the enrollment signed up for Virtual School (committing to semester online) vs portion that didn’t (wanted to go to Plan B)
Response: Currently, 1,958 total students are enrolled in the CCSVA. This is approximately 22% of the total district enrollment. “Enrollment in CCSVA” continues to fluctuate with students who previously requested Virtual Academy having removed themselves and students continuing to enroll. The total enrollment has stayed fairly stable between 18% and 22% since August.
My comment: I’m a little puzzled. I thought there was a deadline to apply for Virtual Academy, and that it required a commitment for the whole semester. If that is the case, the numbers shouldn’t fluctuate, except for students that withdraw from the district (see question 1. This does indicate that the vast majority of CCS parents want their kids to be in school building at least part time. 100% virtual school through semester one does not meet their needs.)

Why do kids need to be in school in person, particularly the grades I mentioned?

Because children WILL be permanently damaged.
1. Printing is linked with learning to read – teachers can teach this online (how do you correct how a child holds a pencil by video?)
2. Students who don’t learn to read by 3rd grade usually can’t catch up, and are more likely to drop out. We will now have almost a full school year (over two grades) with online only last year that is not equal to in person (different from CHOOSING online or homeschool – people who don’t have the circumstances to supervise kids doing school at home)
3. Sixth graders who move to new middle school and don’t make a connection to an adult at the school are at higher risk of drooping out.
4. 9th graders who fail a course (no Fs last spring, but many didn’t learn the material, plus this struggling with format/connectivity this year) are at high risk of dropping out.

None of these can just be made up later. Low-income/single parent families are affected even more because of technology issues and having to make the choice between working and supervising kids.

In addition, I strongly believe teachers are essential workers, every bit as important to the functioning of society as medical personnel, grocery workers, and others who have been working every day face to face during the shut-down, even when they are high-risk, like my cancer survivor plumber husband who has been interacting with homeowners and other workers every day since March. His job is important (we need clean water and we need to keep sewage away from people), but teachers are VITAL. I believe that education is the KEY to fixing all of society’s problems. Yes, there is instruction, but most families are not equipped to support virtual learning. We will feel the effects of increased dropout rates for then next 13 years, and the effects of decreased earning and increased negative behaviors (crime, drug use, suicide, child abuse) for decades.

Our students NEED to be in school in person now, at least part-time. Virtual learning for families that don’t choose it is NOT equivalent to in-person instruction. I urge you to get all students who want it back to in-person instruction this semester, particularly the most vulnerable (EC, K-3, 6, 9).