Missing students: Edmonton educators tackle truancy for online classes during COVID-19

Edmonton educators are worried students learning online may be missing hundreds of hours of lessons during the COVID-19 pandemic.

'They’re just sort of dropping off the face of the earth so to speak,' superintendent says

Schools reopened for in-person learning in September but about 30 per cent of Edmonton student still opt to learn remotely from home. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Edmonton educators are worried students learning online may be missing hundreds of hours of lessons during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Edmonton Public School Board Superintendent Darrel Robertson said many students registered for online learning are not engaging in their classes. 

"They're just sort of dropping off the face of the earth, so to speak," Robertson told the board at a meeting Tuesday. "We continue to try to connect with them and work with families."

Board Chair Trisha Estabrooks said it's been an ongoing issue for many schools. 

"There are students who — the division doesn't know where they are," Estabrooks said. 

"I would say that that isn't unique to Edmonton Public Schools. These are incredibly challenging times for families." 

People want to be at school- Jason Schilling, Alberta Teachers' Association

In response to the attendance drop, the EPSB has hired four new social workers to help engage students and parents and  plans to hire another five to try to connect with families.

"Just to do a check on them and welcome them back into our classrooms to make sure that we can get them going on that learning journey from wherever they're at now," Robertson said. 

The school division will have a total of 20 social workers to help nine school-linked teams that help bridge the online learning issues. 

The social workers help check-in and support families whose children may not be regularly attending online or in-person learning, an EPSB communications spokesperson said in an email. 

About 32 per cent of public school students have opted to learn online since last fall. 

Edmonton public school trustee Michael Janz questioned whether part of the problem is related to students having the proper equipment. 

A number of students may not have the proper device or internet connection they need, especially with some of their parents working from home, he suggested. 

"I'm very concerned about some of the most vulnerable communities where one computer is a luxury in the home, even a phone, let alone having multiple devices to support students in education," Janz said. 

Robertson said the divisions wouldn't be able to afford to give each student a device but some are borrowing technology if they go online. The EPSB also purchased more Chromebooks last year. 

The technology department is working for other ways to fill the gap, Robertson added.  

Yo-yo effect

On Monday, six Alberta schools — including two in Edmonton, M.E. LaZerte and J. Percy Page high school — opted to close in-person classes for two weeks, as COVID-19 cases spiked. 

The president of the Alberta Teachers Association, Jason Schilling, said the flip-flopping can be a problem for students.

"Kids might disconnect for a week or several days before they can get connected," Schilling said in an interview with CBC News Wednesday. 

Schilling agreed that part of the problem could be access to equipment and technology, which varies among students. Having stability is also important, he said. 

"People want to be at school. This last pivot that we did with [grades] 7 to 12 just before Christmas was hard on people. They wanted to be at school," Schilling said. 

The ATA has been urging the provincial government to hire more teachers and hire back education assistants so they can split classes into smaller numbers and avoid quarantine. 

"I keep impressing on the government to improve the plan so that we can keep schools open, so that we can keep kids in classrooms and not have this yo-yo effect."

The Edmonton Catholic School Board chair wasn't available for comment on the issue Wednesday. 

Edmonton public and Catholic divisions both said it will take time to compile recent attendance numbers.



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