Jacksonville School District 117 may have to hold some students back a grade level because they have not engaging in remote learning activities since March of the last school year.
Superintendent Steve Ptacek says that an undetermined number of students in the district have simply unplugged from the learning process: “At this point in time, we are concerned. Last March, March 12th, when we went into our mandatory statewide, district-wide remote learning, we have had a group of students that from that point on that have failed to communicate, work, or respond with the teachers to do any work. It’s getting to the point we have got start being more aggressive in our response because I think we owe that to the students to be more aggressive in that response. We met this week with principals to talk about some extreme possible actions, such as letting [students and parents] know that we are going to place [those students] back into the remote instruction for where they were [grade-wise] last year.”
Ptacek says that the Illinois State Board of Education has caused truancy discipline to be somewhat unclear this year due to their COVID-19 led guidance: “This year [truancy] is aggravated by statements made by ISBE wanting us not to fully enforce truancy. I forget the exact wording they use, but it’s definitely going to be challenging to use that as an option. Our limited options then are to try and reach out to parents to let them know that if you’re not going to participate in your student’s education, then your student is at risk of failing and being retained.”
Ptacek says that teachers, paraprofessionals, school psychologists, social workers, and administrative staff at each school building are following their job duties to make contact with those students considered at risk. Ptacek said during Wednesday night’s school board meeting that some principals and teachers have even gone to student’s residences to communicate issues with parents about their student’s lack of engagement: “If there are ways we can help, let us know. We have purchased and are paying for 100 Internet hotspots to try to help out with families that don’t have Internet connectivity. We are going above and beyond, but we have to face the reality we’re also in a situation where some parents are just saying: ‘Why don’t you send us a paper packet home and we will fill it out and turn it in, and that’s how we’re going to pass?’ That’s not good education. That’s not quality education. It doesn’t help kids get to where they need to be.”
Ptacek says that there are rumors that some older students are using work as an excuse to miss out on online engagement with their teachers. He says that even exploring this with families that are in financial turmoil, if remote learning wasn’t an option, that student would still be considered truant for going to work rather than coming to school and would be at risk for retention.
He says communications for at-risk students will likely be sent out by the district within the next two weeks to mitigate the issue.