The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Tara D. Wallace is a licensed clinician and trauma therapist in Topeka.
Truancy rates in Shawnee County more than doubled during the 2020-2021 school year.
For minority families, remote learning proved challenging for a multitude of reasons — poor connectivity, inadequate equipment and bandwidth issues, just to name a few. Truancy court notices began arriving in spring 2021, as schools reopened and students adjusted to a new normal that did not include a state assessment requirement.
Setting as one of its priorities “educational inequities exacerbated by the pandemic,” the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education allowed schools to lower their annual state assessment rates below 95% participation. Stated plainly, families could opt their children out of taking state assessments. Why would they? Students spent much of fall 2020 struggling to connect to virtual classes and learn new concepts in environments minimally conducive to academics, while attempting to recall concepts learned during spring 2020.
Additionally, schools were given flexibility to administer assessments to the students who chose to take them. A reasonable consideration given the anticipated COVID-19 surges predicted during the spring of 2021, yes?
The Department of Education required schools to provide disaggregated data related to “chronic absenteeism” and access to “technology devices like laptops or tablets and to high-speed internet at home.” Therein lies the rub. Nationally, minority populations experienced higher instances of “chronic absenteeism” based on pre-COVID attendance guidelines.
Remember, minority students’ struggle with basic internet service? Unless the pandemic somehow improved internet quality, significant adjustments were needed to compensate for the massive overload facing outdated systems.
That did not happen.
In the rush to get students in “school”, no consideration was given to attendance policies for remote learning. If for any reason a student was not waiting to be admitted to their virtual class, they were at risk for being counted absent or tardy. If a student was admitted and later disconnected, if their system froze, or they lost access to sound or did not appear or remain on camera, they were at risk for being counted absent.
Minority families with multiple students attempting to access remote learning simultaneously could expect at least one student being counted absent or tardy during the school day due …….