TEA attendance guidelines tighten for remote learners

Students who choose to attend school remotely will have to follow more stringent guidelines than last spring for meeting attendance requirements set by the Texas Education Agency. In fact, the TEA has provided schools with special attendance codes for remote learners. 

“We have to prove that a student has participated in class,” said Dr. Chris Allen, Marble Falls Independent School District superintendent. “If they Zoom the class, we can check them off, but some classes won’t have check-in. They will have to produce work that demonstrates they were engaged for that day.” 

This model of keeping attendance records also will be used by the Burnet Consolidated Independent School District. 

“Attendance has always been built around seat time,” said Rachel Jones, BCISD assistant superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction. She referred to the new system for remote learners as a paradigm shift. “What’s different with the remote learners is that we are not bound by the scheduled class period every time. Remote students will not necessarily be on the same schedule every day as face-to-face kids.” 

In MFISD, remote students will be “in class” with the on-campus students, said Allen, adding that the district will be calling parents of students who do not check in at the beginning of class.  

“If a remote learner is going to be out sick, they have to report that to the school just as they always would before,” Allen said. “They need to let their teachers know. We have a flexibility in how we count attendance. We do not have flexibility in requirements to attend.” 

Whether remote or in person, students must be counted present for instruction at least 90 percent of time before they can be promoted to the next grade level. 

“By and large, truancy issues are still very much in play,” Jones said. “The state has not waived that requirement for us, and we are not permitted to let it go.” 

Another shift in thinking concerns policies developed to encourage coming to school every day, driven by a funding model that awards state money based on daily attendance records. For example, high school students with good attendance earn exam exemptions. 

“That practice is being revisited,” Allen said. “We don’t want to have anything in place to encourage kids to attend school sick. We have walked a balance in the past that we are not walking this year.” 

Remote learning could actually help with attendance when it comes to students calling in sick, especially with new state regulations requiring students to stay home 72 hours rather than the usual 24 hours after a fever has gone away. Students will be required to self-quarantine for up to two weeks if exposed to a known COVID-19 patient. That could be even longer if the student actually contracts the virus. 

“Depending on how the students are feeling, they could switch to remote learning if they are home for a long period of time,” Allen said.

He emphasized that students who do not feel well will not be expected to attend school remotely, but students in quarantine who are not ill will be switched to online lessons temporarily.

Another goal for the new attendance program is to keep it simple. 

“We want to build a system that is the least amount of burden on the teachers as possible,” Jones said. 

That will depend a lot on scheduling teacher hours around class time and Zoom time, she said. Teachers are ultimately the arbiters of who is keeping up with their work and staying engaged in lessons. 

“Our need to communicate with families and parents will need to be higher than it ever was before,” Allen said. 

For more information about what students, teachers, staff, and administrators face going back to school during a pandemic, visit the DailyTrib.com’s special Back to School guide. 

suzanne@thepicayune.com 

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