‘It worries me,’ Arkansas superintendents concerned about disengaged virtual learners

Local News

CROSSETT/EL DORADO, Ark. (KTVE/KARD) — School districts across Arkansas have completed the first week of this second semester and superintendents are hoping to have a successful year for both virtual and in-person learners.

However, it’s those disengaged virtual students that superintendents at Crossett and El Dorado school districts are greatly concerned about.

“It worries me,” El Dorado School District Superintendent, Jim Tucker said. “It worries me for them.”

Some virtual school parents are saying they are being forced to send their kids back to school during this coronavirus pandemic as covid cases are on the rise across the state.

The El Dorado School District contacted about 150 students and parents last semester who were doing little to no work in their virtual classrooms.

Superintendent Tucker says this is only a small percentage of students out of approximately 4,600 children in the district.

The disengagement has prompted teachers and counselors to make multiple phone calls and send letters to parents because of failure to login in.

Tucker says the staff reach out in support of the children and are trying to inquire about ways to help. Most do not respond at all or continue to lag behind in their classwork.

In extreme cases, the district has had to take further action by sending the principal and a school resource officer to the home to refer the parent to court and/or the Department of Human Services for missed instruction and educational neglect.

This can result in the school asking the student to return to onsite instruction. If parents still don’t comply, they could likely be taken to court for the child attendance. This is the same process that would be taken during a regular school year.

“There are risks that will come from the disengagement that we are concerned about as school officials,” Superintendent of the Crossett School District, Gary Williams said.

Some parents have expressed their own concerns with their kids return to school with the possibility of catching the coronavirus.

At the start of this 2021 school year, the El Dorado and Crossett school districts have both reported more virtual students choosing to attend in-person classes.

“I really feel like in our school district we are doing a pretty good job,” Tucker said. “Our positive cases are not nearly what a lot of schools are.”

The Crossett School District reported having approximately 45 percent of students who were virtual last year. This school year there are about 20 percent of students that have chosen the remote learning option.

“That’s where I thought we would end up all along. Many of them have started to come back and I anticipate more to come back as struggles start become evident and they realized the need to be in front of the teacher is important,” Williams said.

As difficult as it for parents to send their children because of the disengagement, Williams and Tucker both agree it’s also hard having to take such action but all they want is for the students to walk out of this covid era prepared for the next step in their life.

“We aren’t just talking about the reading and the writing but the ability to manage their time and be responsible for their learning when they leave our school system. They’ll need it in the college. They’ll need it in the workforce.”

Tucker and Williams say there teachers and principals are willing to work with parents and students that are struggling but communication is key.

“We want to be available to our parents. If students and parents are unsure don’t sit back and let a day pass. Contact your teacher. That’s a responsibility from the student standpoint that is no different from being in the classroom,” Williams said.

Both districts say they will honor doctor’s notes stating the need for the child to stay home. However, if they still aren’t doing the work they will be retained.

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