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96% of Howard County students attended first day of virtual school

Approximately 96% of Howard County students attended the first day of virtual school Tuesday, according to the school system.

Howard County Public School System spokesperson Brian Bassett said attendance was 95.9% for the nearly 59,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Each level — elementary, middle and high — had attendance between 94% and 97%.

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After the Board of Education voted in July to make school in Howard County virtual through at least the end of January due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, some on the board and parents in the community questioned how attendance would be tracked.

In the spring after schools were first closed because of COVID-19, attendance was mostly tracked by students logging in or completing assignments on one of the school system’s learning management systems. On days when students met live with their classes, attendance was tracked by their teachers, but only one to three hours of live instruction was provided a week in the spring.

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Now, however, attendance every day except Wednesday is tracked traditionally by teachers, who are in charge of noting whether a student was present for the live instruction. Students have three hours of live instruction on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, while Wednesdays are reserved for homework and self-guided instruction.

At the elementary level, both the homeroom and math teachers will take attendance, while all four of a secondary student’s teachers will take period attendance for the live instruction.

Instead of secondary students having seven courses in a day, the Board of Education voted to change the schedule at the middle and high school levels to a semester-based model with four classes per semester. This decision was made due to the current plan of having the first semester virtually and the second semester in either a hybrid or in-person format.

According to the school system’s plan, if a student is having technical difficulties, he or she can submit work to receive attendance credit.

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On Wednesdays, when students are learning by themselves and teachers are planning and receiving training, student attendance is counted if they submit an assignment, complete work in one of the school system’s learning management systems (Canvas, DreamBox or Lexia Core5) or meet virtually with a teacher for extra help. The attendance system for Wednesdays won’t begin until Sept. 16; every student was marked as present this past Wednesday.

By level, kindergarteners attended at a rate of 95.6%, while elementary school students were marked present at a rate of 94.7%. Middle school and high school attendance was 96.9% and 96.5%, respectively.

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