PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — As the school year proceeds with a significant number of students attending classes virtually, Platteville School District administrators report that absences and truancy have improved markedly after teachers organized tutoring and personal coaching sessions.
But school leaders also attribute improvement to the decisions of parents who sent their students back to the classroom for face-to-face instruction.
“The concern about the virus is real,” said middle school Principal Jason Julius. “In some cases, that virtual instruction is hard — that lack of accountability. … Bringing them in was better for that student.”
In August, school board members approved a hybrid model of teaching, in which students can attend school 100% virtually or have face-to-face classes part of each week.
At Platteville Middle School, about 20% of the student body, which totals 460 students, enrolled in full-time virtual education, stemming from concerns over COVID-19. Virtual enrollment since has decreased to 17%.
Truancy violations decreased from 45 notices during the first week the school began reporting them in September to just nine this week.
“Most of our truancy this year has been because of our virtual attendance,” Julius said.
He also attributes the decline in truancy to the financial penalties that families incur if a student is habitually truant and to the doubling of classroom instruction for seventh and eighth graders from two days each week to four. Fifth and sixth graders attended face-to-face classes four days per week since the start of the school year.
The City of Platteville can fine parents or guardians $50 for a first violation of truancy and $100 for each subsequent violation committed within 12 months of the first. In instances of habitual truancy, parents also could be found guilty of a criminal misdemeanor, for which they can be fined up to $500 or imprisoned for 30 days.
Platteville High School Principal Jacob Crase has seen improvement in truancy since teachers began to offer in-person support sessions, in which 10 to 20 students participate on days when they are scheduled to attend school virtually.
Westview Elementary School Principal ReNah Reuter likewise reported significant truancy at the start of the school year, which she attributed to student disengagement from virtual instruction.
Students there either attend classes four days per week and one day online or attend entirely online.
Virtual enrollment at the school declined from 32% to 25%. Earlier this month, after a seventh person tested positive for the coronavirus within a 14-day period, Westview pivoted to virtual instruction until Nov. 30.
Tammy Haag, principal of Neal Wilkins Early Learning Center, said several students have returned to the classroom.
About 24% of 4-year-old kindergarten and kindergarten students started the year in virtual education, but that percentage has declined to 22%.
“Parents are starting to struggle a little bit more from what I can tell as far as keeping their children motivated to learn online,” she said.