Cleveland schools working on a plan to address pandemic related sagging attendance numbers

Published: Dec. 18, 2020 at 6:52 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - The Cleveland Metropolitan School District is working to alleviate a growing attendance crisis caused, in great part, by the pandemic and related issues that make it difficult for some students to engage in online learning.

Overall, attendance in the district has dipped to 85%. Down from the 92% rate the district saw before the pandemic. It’s a rate that school’s CEO Eric Gordon calls concerning.

The district has seen an alarming reduction in preschool and kindergarten enrollment that they believe is tied to the pandemic and the difficulties of engaging young children, for a variety of reasons, in online learning.

The district says that enrollment in kindergarten is down 700 students from what they expected and the preschool enrollment is off 33% percent.

Gordon said the Cleveland schools are not alone.

“We are seeing the same trend that my peers nationally are seeing,” he said. “It is a pattern that the more poor the community is, the harder the attendance problems are so that’s a struggle for us.”

The pandemic has furthered the economic issues that some families are facing. In many cases, older students in the district have taken jobs to help families make ends meet.

“Lots of our students are working to put food on the table where families lost work,” Gordon said, “We’re competing with Amazon and fast food jobs that [are] putting food on the table.”

Driving an Amazon truck or working in fast food has unfortunately become a need, rather than an after-school way to make a couple of extra bucks.

The district has taken to texting and trying to engage missing students on social media and has also started home visits to try and re-engage students who are not attending.

Gordon said the district will not penalize students who are not taking online classes.

“We give incompletes instead of F’s so we can say to a student, ‘OK. You didn’t finish, but you have to,’ as opposed to just treating the student as a failure because of living through a pandemic,” he said.

Five years ago, the district started a campaign called, “Get to school. You can make it.” They believe that campaign helped drive attendance to the 92 percent they saw before the pandemic, and they believe they can – with hard work – reach those numbers again.

“It is going to be hard, but it doesn’t mean you don’t try,” Gordon said.

And that may mean, for younger students, restarting the academic process by mixing 5 and 6 year old students in classes that fit where they are from an academic standpoint rather than from an age standpoint.

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