Remote instruction challenges AISD’s attendance rates

Carey Wooley, Dispatch Reporter

Throughout the 2020-2021 school year of remote instruction, the Austin Independent School District (AISD) has had to exercise innovation in its methods for student attendance records. For instance, teachers have employed Google Forms, synchronous Zoom roll-calls, and BLEND submission features in order to track remote, off-campus attendance. 

The methods of remote attendance maintenance are crucial for the district to receive funding from the Texas Education Association (TEA), which allocates funds in accordance to student attendance. As of April 16, only 31 percent of students in AISD participated in on-campus instruction, causing the district to fall short of its 44 percent on-campus student attendance goal.

“I think all students need to be back in person next fall,” child development teacher Bridgette Reyes said. “It is vital for not only their grades and academic performance, but for their social and emotional development.”

With many teachers getting the COVID-19 vaccine and people twelve and up being able to get vaccinated, sophomore Caroline Cullinane hopes more people will be inclined to come back to on-campus instruction. In the 2020-2021 school year, AISD had 5,000 less students enrolled in the district as a whole than in the 2019-2020 school year. 

“I think that because COVID-19 vaccinations are now open to all high school students, it is safe to open back up school to people who choose to go back,” Cullinane said. “I will be going back because I get a significant more amount of work done in person than I do while at  home.” 

While students can receive remote attendance credit for all of their classes this school year, the TEA has continued to emphasize in-person attendance and participation. For students who desire to return to on-campus instructidon, they can decide to partake in full-time, on-campus learning or the hybrid model, enabling them to come to school two to three times per week. 

“I had not considered going back in the first semester, but this semester I went back in-person about a month ago for B-block classes only,” Cullinane said. “Next year,  in the 2021-2022 school year, I hope to see people having more connections whether in-person or on Zoom, and more relationships with teachers than this year.”

With the June 3 date of the school year’s closure fast approaching, Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde is pushing for students to return to in-person learning. According to the Texas Tribune, AISD is in danger of losing  $5 million dollars in state funding if they do not increase their in-person attendance to 44 percent.

“I would offer some type of incentive for students who went back, like vaccines or free COVID-19 testing,” Cullinane said. “I would also spend money making sure that the campus’ security and sanity is top-notch so more people feel safe coming back.”

For the 2021-2022 school year, in-person attendance at Bowie High School will be expected in the AISD district, in accordance with TEA expectations and guidelines. If students desire to maintain participation in remote instruction, they are encouraged to pursue instruction in the Garza Independence High School program. 

“I thought about [going back in-person] to campus, but I am not vaccinated yet and do not want to take any unnecessary risks,” freshman Bella Barkkume said. “For the next school year, I would get the kids to go back, but I would keep masks mandates.”