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Baltimore public schools estimate 80% of students attended first day of online classes

Baltimore public school officials estimate that about 80% of enrolled students attended live online instruction on the first day of the fall semester Tuesday.

Educators must track attendance on a daily basis, but schools have until next week to fully account for participation in online classes. As a result, that figure could fluctuate as the data is finalized, school system officials said in a statement Thursday.

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Baltimore Schools CEO Sonja Santelises said last week she was hoping for 80% attendance on the first day.

The estimate indicates that thousands of students across the city did not attend virtual classes Tuesday, although the reasons were not immediately clear. The school system usually confirms enrollment totals at the end of September. More than 79,100 students were enrolled during the 2019-2020 school year.

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Attendance for the first day of classes Tuesday was higher than during the first weeks of the statewide school shutdown, when city school leaders said about 75% of students were able to connect to online lessons in March and April.

School officials said they will follow up with families of absent students and address any needs to get the children connected. Students will not be penalized for absences due to a lack of access to necessary technology, school officials said.

“Students who are unable to attend school due to not having a computer or internet connection are being tracked through the attendance record, and every effort will be made to help them resolve their technology concerns as quickly as possible,” officials said in a statement.

As the school system prepared for virtual instruction this fall, officials worried that students who lack internet access or a laptop wouldn’t be signing on to the live online classes, their only opportunity for instruction until schools reopen. Baltimore-area school districts have started the year holding all classes online to control the spread of coronavirus.

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The city school system has paid $650,000 to Comcast to provide internet to 14,000 disadvantaged children, negotiated a deal with T-Mobile to buy up to 20,000 internet hot spots, and handed out 30,000 laptops.

Still, some students said the Comcast internet package does not provide enough bandwidth for multiple children in a household to simultaneously log on to classes.

Schools will count students in attendance for the day if families can provide evidence that the child completed work outside of virtual classes, officials said in the statement.

Baltimore City is holding online classes five days a week during normal school hours.

Students in first through fifth grades are required to have just under 4 hours of live online instruction while middle and high school students have between 5 and 5½ hours of live classes in a school day of about 7 hours.

Kindergartners have 1 hour and 40 minutes per day of live instruction with additional independent work, breaks and lunch that add up to a regular school day of 6 hours and 15 minutes.

Baltimore Sun reporter Liz Bowie contributed to this article.

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