We’re All Virtually Absent Here: Why—and How Attendance This Year Needs to Change

By Emi Smart, Staff Writer

 Suddenly, the door opens, and a middle aged woman with glasses and a clipboard walks in. It’s Ms. Landis, the campus monitor.

“Can I speak with Emily Smart for a moment?” she asks. The whole class looks up from their phones and glares at me. I sigh, and walk out behind her. “You have two unexcused absences from two weeks ago, on Wednesday, and an unexcused tardy from the following day.” She flips the page on her clipboard. “Please get a parent to call by tomorrow at eleven, or you’ll have to go to lunch detention.”

“Damn,” I think to myself. “I didn’t even know I was absent those days.” 

As much as students—myself included—enjoy calling out school for keeping tabs on attendance in all its detention slip-filled, Big Brother-like glory, keeping up with classes is one of the fundamental tools for success in high school. 

As we continue learning through a screen and soon transitioning back to in-person school, one thing needs to be kept in mind: though we’ve mostly adjusted to life in a global pandemic and the government guidelines surrounding it, a new normal needs to be shaped regarding attendance.

Taking ten minutes out of your day to fill out a form for every class asking if you were virtually present may seem like an adequate idea to the district, but student’s opinions should be taken into consideration when creating an attendance model, even if teachers may predominantly use it.

“It’s really tedious to fill out the google forms for every single class,” said junior Grady McGean. “I feel like teachers don’t even really care that much about the Google Forms…they do it more with Canvas or WebEx.” To students, the Google Forms used almost feel parallel to an unsolicited birthday gift from an odd relative; say “thank you” and put it in a closet, where it’ll stay until spring cleaning next year. 

“I’ve heard that there’s been glitches with [the Google Form],” (which we’ve all encountered, or—and let’s be honest, lied about) said Jay Mathisen, former Bend LaPine Assistant Superintendent. “If the [Google Form] worked perfectly, I actually think its a pretty good solution.”

There isn’t an ideal way for attendance to be checked, which calls into question the practicality of attendance as a whole. Dean of Students and Assistant Vice Principal for Summit students, Kristy Knoll, explains how keeping track of attendance is necessary, however. 

“That’s where we get our federal money to run our school,” Knoll said, “by being able to prove how many students we have at school.” 

In order to fund Summit, a set amount of money is allotted to the school for each storm student. So, if there was no attendance model in place, there would not be a way for the government to assess how much money to give schools.  

“By law, if a student is absent for more than ten days in a row, we have to drop [them] from our rosters,” Knoll said. Thus removing funding for the school—even if said student returns after ten days of absence. 

Nonetheless, the law connecting attendance to school funding was designed for a normal school year. With Covid-19 impacting due dates, class policies, and attendance, this year is everything but normal. The attendance taking protocols within Oregon law should be re-evaluated and altered to better fit students’ needs this year. 

A revised attendance model that fits Oregon’s laws surrounding attendance would look something like this: attending either in-person classes or Webex meetings would count as a point towards one’s grade—but to keep a realistic point of view, in this pandemic attendance rates are down. A students’ mental health could be suffering, which should be kept in mind when teachers take off said attendance points. For funding purposes, student attendance records would still be kept, however irrational attendance point deduction for absence could be settled between student and teacher. 

“Unfortunately [attendance] has not been as strong as in person,” said Bend-La Pine School Board member and Summit high schooler parent Caroline Skidmore. “Teachers are reporting that attendance has decreased, and that overall student engagement is down.” Ergo, schooling at home is more taxing for the majority of students. 

However for students who have chronic absence, Skidmore says the “state allowed us to provide some limited in-person instruction for our students who were really struggling.” 

With the intention to aid students struggling online, points for attendance should not be weighed too heavily. On days where teachers see their class, ”normal” attendance can be taken, and on asynchronous days, there shouldn’t be “attendance”—instead of filing out mundane and unnecessary forms, assignments should be due on asynchronous days, in which attendance could be taken from whether or not a student turned in their assignment on time. 

The focus during the Covid-19 pandemic should be on student’s wellbeing, not just grades; all that the Bend LaPine district needs to prioritize is practicing empathy while establishing district level measures for students this year. By continuing to value our education while being open to change our ways of learning, we can all get through this pandemic in one piece. 

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