PROVIDENCE – Officials trying to identify why nearly 700 Providence elementary school students were absent from their virtual learning program on Monday say they have identified “clear patterns” of teachers who failed to contact their students before the first day of school.
Providence teachers were given rosters, each containing the names of 52 elementary school students, on Friday, Sept. 11, and were asked to contact the students’ families to provide log-in information and remind them of the first day of school. But the district acknowledged Monday evening that it believed some of families were never contacted.
The district reported 699 elementary school student absences on Monday, out of 3,000 elementary students who are enrolled in virtual learning. Attendance improved on Tuesday after text messages were sent to every family that missed the first day of school, but 474 students were still marked absent.
“From that district outreach, clear patterns emerged that identified a handful of elementary teachers who had not met clear expectations for family outreach,” district spokeswoman Laura Hart said in a prepared statement. “Nor did it appear that this group of teachers had alerted the district to communication issues during the school day.”
Asked if the teachers would face discipline, Hart said, “that would depend on what we learn” after meeting with them.
Providence Teachers Union President Maribeth Calabro said she was “extremely disappointed” by the district’s claim, noting that many teachers “were not given any information until quarter-to-the-final hour.”
“Had expectations been clearly defined for parents and educators, we would not be at this point,” Calabro said.
Calabro said Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green contacted her on Tuesday to discuss working collaboratively to make virtual learning options work for students.
Public schools across Rhode Island reopened for the first time in six months on Monday, but Providence has faced resistance from some teachers and parents who claim that the aging school buildings are too dangerous during a pandemic.
The Providence Teachers Union has held several rallies asking for more support from the state, which last year took control of the school system. The teachers are also working under an expired union contract.
Roughly 6,500 of the district’s 24,000 students have chosen to remain in virtual learning for the first half of the school year.
Hart said the majority of teachers “have been working hard to engage students and connect with families,” but for virtual learning to be successful, the district has to prioritize customer service.
“The district will be following up with the individual teachers involved to learn more and address these issues,” Hart said.