Miriam PearlmutterKathryn Perrico

July 17, 2020 

To assist school districts in developing remote learning plans for the 2020-2021 school year, the Ohio Department of Education recently released guidance addressing student attendance during remote learning activities.

At the outset, ODE urges school districts to maintain student and parent contact information, learn about families’ digital access, and build collaboration and trust. Additional guiding principles include prioritizing health and safety, emphasizing student engagement, using data to drive decision-making, leveraging community partnerships, and supporting the whole child.

Remote learning plans, as outlined in HB 164, must include “how the school will document participation in learning opportunities.” ODE offers the following considerations for tracking attendance:

  • Hourly Increments: Attendance must be converted and reported in hourly increments. However, it is not necessary to take attendance hourly, or even daily. Instead, districts can opt to monitor attendance weekly (or using another regular schedule) to provide flexibility for families.
  • Remote Learning: Attendance hours will vary by the type of remote-learning activity.  Synchronous teacher-led remote learning can equate to hour-for-hour in-person instruction, but asynchronous self-directed remote learning may require analyzing “evidence of participation.”  Evidence of participation can include daily logins, student-teacher interactions, and assignment completion. Using assignment completion as evidence of participation means determining how many hours an assignment should take a typical student to complete, and counting that time as attendance hours. For example, a long-term project may be expected to take eight hours over two weeks, and will count for eight hours of student attendance, even though some may finish in more or less time. Daily or weekly tasks (e.g. journaling) can also be logged according to how much time students are expected to spend on the activity (i.e. 15 minutes per day equals 1.25 hours per week). Although the default is to assume attendance, if there’s no evidence of student exposure, engagement or participation, that child should be marked as absent for the hours assigned to that remote-learning task.
  • In-School Learning: Attendance for in-school activities should be taken the same way as normal when students are in-school. ODE cautions that remote learning should not be used to make up in-school absences, unless a student is in quarantine or in-school learning is discretionary.

ODE also encourages districts to update their attendance and absenteeism policies to include additional excusals for student absences related to remote learning and/or the pandemic. Examples of additional reasons to excuse student absences include: temporary internet outages, unexpected technical difficulties, and “student absence due to COVID-19.” Districts should also consider updating the definition of medically-excused absence to allow additional days excused without a doctor’s note and/or to extend the timeline for receiving such excuses for quarantined students or those experiencing symptoms. ODE emphasizes that district policies must avoid penalizing students who contract COVID-19.

Moreover, ODE encourages flexibility in record-keeping and reporting via student information systems. Although expected student calendar hours must typically be recorded as either “in attendance,” “excused absence,” or “unexcused absence” for specific days, schools may adopt procedures to ease record-keeping and data entry. A student’s absence for a three-hour activity, for example, can be recorded for one day instead of split across the five days assigned to that remote learning task.

Finally, some students with IEPs or Section 504 Plans may need COVID-19 attendance accommodations depending on their individual circumstances.  Please reach out to your district’s counsel if you have questions about attendance accommodations or any other aspect of this guidance.

The full guidance released by ODE is available here.

Miriam Pearlmutter is an attorney at Walter | Haverfield who focuses her practice on education law. She can be reached at mpearlmutter@walterhav.com or at 216-619-7861.

Kathy Perrico is a partner at Walter | Haverfield who focuses her practice on education law. She can be reached at kperrico@walterhav.com or at 216-928-2948.