This is no normal year for students in SLO County. Most people were accustomed to waking up early, getting ready, and leaving for school by 8:00. However, things have changed drastically for everyone since COVID-19 struck. Students now have to login to Zoom everyday to meet with classmates and teachers to get their education. It was a major change and required students to make a lot of adjustments to their daily routine.
Ms. Asquith, the new attendance secretary, speculated on how distance learning is affecting the kind of calls she gets about excusing absences. She explained that “distance learning gives the student the opportunity to be in class while waiting for a dentist appointment or sitting in the car. A student can show up to class when they are ill without the risk of infecting other students or their teacher. In this capacity, I feel that there are many situations with distance learning that gives the student the ability to incur less absences than they would with in-person learning.”
While making it easier for the most part to stay in touch with teachers, technology can fail sometimes and cut it out entirely. “The flipside to this is the dependency on electricity, tech, and the internet. We have seen a whole neighborhood call in to report that the power is out and they can’t get into their classes.”
It is still difficult to say whether or not there are more or fewer absences and tardies with distance learning. Through a screen or through a door, students continue to give excuses why they are entering late. Some students have reported accidentally sleeping in or just forgetting what time class starts. “Occasionally, I get some amusing reasons like “my son slept in because he stayed up all night playing computer games”… Or the poor kid whose mom wrote in that her son “had to poop.” We also had a family who called in because they had a possum get in their house and was cruising around causing trouble while they were trying to sleep.” Ms. Asquith reported when we asked about what people say when they call in.
She also noted, “We see many reasons for absences, not all are excused. There are lots of doctor, dental, and ortho appointments that are getting caught up from the summer closures. People are also taking the vacation they may have had canceled during the summer. We also see funerals, DMV, and ‘family emergencies.'”
Some students are struggling to keep focused and motivated during online classes. One student explained that he is late sometimes because his attention is on something he has to do at home, so he forgets to go to class at the right time. “…at school you have to go to class, because school is the only thing to do when you are actually at the physical place. When you get home there’s other stuff to get distracted by.” School can be demanding sometimes. Occasionally, students choose to take a break because they’re tired and the temptation is overwhelming.
Winter break is coming up and may allow students and staff a chance to rest so that they come back happy and motivated. All in all, it’s difficult to scope the amount of absences this year compared to last year. Finals are the week after break, so if there’s any time to come to class, it’s that week.
Further, as some students may be able to return to campus on a hybrid schedule in the coming months, the future of what absences will look like through the end of the year is, as yet, unknown.