Milford schools to announce virus cases districtwide, target attendance

MILFORD — As more Milford School District students head back to school in person, the district plans to announce all COVID-19 cases districtwide. Meanwhile, administrators are also working to target attendance, and striving to connect with a “handful or more” of no-show students this year.

As the district phases in more students to a hybrid learning model, a mixture of in-person and remote instruction, currently 70% of students in pre-K through grade five will be in school for part of the week, said Superintendent Kevin Dickerson. By the end of next week, approximately 70% of students in pre-K through grade eight will be in across the district.

“We look forward to that here,” he said at the school board meeting Monday. “I understand right now it is part-time, but there’s a lot of work that has gone into this.”

But with more people on campus, there comes the potential for COVID-19 cases. Dr. Dickerson said the district, using social media and an all-call, will communicate positive cases of the virus throughout the district.

“We have a lot of paths that cross here, a lot of families in multiple schools,” he said. “We feel like we should communicate with our entire district community if we have cases going forward.”

Over the spring and summer, the district had likewise publicly posted positive case notifications.

The state, meanwhile, is releasing aggregate data weekly for all child care centers and public and private K-12s.

As the district moves from a more fully remote model to a hybrid one, attendance this year, and historically, was a topic of discussion.

The district’s 2020-2021 attendance is averaging about 90% or higher at this time, down from 96% last year and 94% the year before.

Milford High School sits at the lowest of the district’s schools in attendance, at 85%, followed by Milford Central Academy (90%), but both are “trending similarly as it has historically,” as is the district’s overall attendance.

The secondary level is also where the district is still trying to account for a number of students who are listed as registered, enrolled students, said Dr. Dickerson.

“Each one of our schools has been working very proactively through that process and, if I’m not mistaken, we are nearly down to maybe a handful or more at this stage,” Bridget Amory, director of student learning, told the school board Monday night.

The high school staff, she explained, was out Monday verifying that families no longer lived at listed addresses and is following up on where families could have moved, “so that we could help get them enrolled wherever they may have potentially relocated to.”

“We’re all accounted for with Pre-K through five,” Dr. Dickerson said. “Secondary level, we still have some no-shows that we have some leads on and really had some people really delving into continuing to try to make those individual contacts.”

Although the district has started to bring some of its younger learners back for hybrid learning, a majority of classes across the state remain mostly remote, meaning attendance has had to adapt to address a new model.

“I think in our current situation, with COVID, our children are more excited than ever to be back in school,” Dr. Amory said. “So we may see a very different level of attendance. Right now we’re trending similarly to what we have in the past, but I’ll be very curious to see how that trends moving forward.”

In Milford, under remote learning, attendance is tracked daily. Evidence of access and completion of assignments are marked as present; evidence of access, but not completion, and timely submission is also marked as present. No evidence of access or completion of work equates to an absence. (Students can also be marked for “self-study,” which is when they complete the work.)

“It is definitely different for us to record attendance when our children are participating remotely, and that was some intense research that had to be done in order to provide such guidance,” Dr. Amory said.

Looking beyond this year, Milford has been averaging 12-13% of the student population (approximately 4,300) experiencing “chronic absenteeism” — or missing about 10% of the school year — said Dr. Amory, citing data from the 2018-2019 school year. Statewide, about 14% of students are chronically absent.

“Research shows if you miss more than 10% of school, you’re going to have detrimental effects or impacts to your education, your learning and achievement that goes along with that,” Dr. Dickerson said. “It’s something we need to look at holistically.”

English learner families, as well as Hispanic families, have some of the highest attendance percentage rates in the district on average, Dr. Amory said (which differs from statewide data). The most concerning group, however, is students whose families have low socio-economic status.

“With a lot of those families, they are struggling with just some basic needs. They’re trying to keep the roof over their head, they’re trying to pay bills, they’re trying to keep food on the table. School is not necessarily always a priority for them,” she said.

The families are typically ones the district provides homeless transportation for, or connects to food banks or different food vendors “to help take some of the stressors off of them,” Dr. Amory said.

The district has personnel dedicated to addressing attendance (a visiting teacher, registrars, attendance clerks, secretaries, school counselors and mental health staff), coordinates home visits from the visiting teacher, as well as more clerical strategies (automated phone calls, letters home, request for medical documentation, etc.).

This year, as attendance is more nuanced across the state this year, the district anticipates adding another student interventionist through Opportunity Funding, Dr. Dickerson said, and hopes to address the “chronic offenders.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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