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How are North Carolina schools handling the pandemic?

Posted December 18, 2020 11:27 a.m. EST

When the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, North Carolina schools had to quickly make changes to instruction. For the past ten months, educators, parents and board members alike have worked to answer one question:

How can we make sure our kids are still receiving a quality education?

WRAL reached out to all school districts to learn about their attendance policies for the year, attendance rates and how many students had failed a class.

We asked about information from both the 2019 and 2020 school years to compare rates from before and after the pandemic broke out.

In many school districts, there is still time to pull up failing grades since the semester hasn’t ended yet. Still, many reported drastically more students were failing a class this year than last.

Attendance rates changed in some instances, but for the most part did not dramatically change. It depends across the state if schools require cameras to be on during class, or even if attending class is how attendance is measured.

The four schools described below - Clinton, Davie, Martin and Washington - are samples of both city and rural schools in North Carolina, picked to give a picture of what different types of educational systems across the state are doing.

Clinton
Clinton City Schools serves over 2,500 students at five schools.

At 37 percent, more students chose to attend school remotely than from compete face to face instruction or a hybrid model, and respectively.

Attendance during the previous semester was 93 percent, down from 98 percent the spring semester before. Clinton schools do not require cameras on for students to be considered present, although it is encouraged “for the social/emotional connections,” the district said in response to WRAL’s questions.

Like many other schools in North Carolina, the main way that Clinton schools determine if a student is present is through completion of their work.

“If a student completes online work during a normally scheduled virtual instructional day, they are to be counted present even if they neglect to complete an attendance form on that date,” they said.

If a student fails to attend class on a day they are supposed to receive in-person instruction, they are marked present unless they are quarantined under official medical or government orders.

In the fall 2020 semester, 33 percent of students are failing a class. This is more than double the percent of students that failed classes in the fall 2019 semester, when 14 percent of students failed a class.

Davie
Davie County Schools serves over 5,700 students at 12 schools.

All students are at least partially remote learning, and 16.60 percent of students are learning remotely this semester.

"Students must attend each teacher’s synchronous instruction or meet other communicated expectations in order to be counted present for the day,” the district said.

“If technical issues prevent this from happening, the family must communicate with the teacher and/or school on that day for alternate arrangements to be made to be counted present."

Davie County is largely rural. Technology company Yadtel Telecom has received a USDA grant to provide more high-speed Internet to the county.

During the fall 2020 semester, attendance rates were at 95.1 percent, a smidge down from 95.4 percent in fall 2019.

In the spring 2020 semester, Davie’s attendance rate was 97.3 percent. The district, like many others, did not count attendance in the spring after early March due to Department of Public Instruction recommendations.

Davie schools also saw an increase of students failing a class compared to last year. However, while still nearly doubling, their increase was much less than other school districts.

Currently, 11.8 percent of students are failing a class, while 6 percent of students failed a class at this time last year.

Martin
Martin County Schools has over 2,800 students attending eight schools.

During the fall 2020 semester, the district had 39 percent of students learning in a completely virtual format. 38 percent received full face to face instruction, and 23 percent got a hybrid model.

The school district did not mention if their virtual policy made students have their cameras on during classes.

“Our goal is to have students on all live sessions,” the district said. “However if the student completes the work for the week virtually by Sunday, then they will be counted present.”

Their policy is in line with other North Carolina school district’s policies of counting absences by work completed.

Like Davie County Schools, attendance in fall 2020 was nearly the same from fall 2019.
Attendance rates were 94.3 percent in fall 2020 and 93.6 percent the year before.

Attendance in the spring was 96.5 percent.

Students failing a class skyrocketed from the previous year. In fall 2019, the rate of students failing a class was only .06 percent.

A year later, it is now 19 percent.

Washington
The smallest school district included, Washington County Schools has over 1,300 students at five schools.

During the fall 2020 semester, the district had 96.8 percent of students in a completely virtual format. Exempt are Pre-K students, as well as students in the Exceptional Children program.

Cameras are not required to be on for students to be present.

When a student logs into the class, they are counted as present.

“Students that miss class are able to receive attendance for the class by completing the assignments for that day within 5 school days,” the school district said.

If the student completes their work afterwards, the teacher has to mark them as present even if they did not attend class on a remote learning day.

Out of the four schools, Washington has had the most variety in its attendance rates.

In fall 2019, before the pandemic, the school district had students attending school at 94.45 percent.

When the pandemic started in the spring, that dropped to 74.5 percent - nearly 20 percent.

A year later, Washington County Schools has improved its attendance rate but still is not back where it was before the pandemic hit. Its attendance rate for fall 2020 is 83.6 percent.

Like other school districts, Washing County School’s semester is not over yet. That means students still have a chance to turn in missing work and pull up their grades.

However, for high school students the percent of kids failing a class went up by double digits.

In fall 2019, 4 percent of students were failing a class. Now, it is at 23 percent.

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