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As School Moves Online, Many Students Stay Logged Out

For many students, it seems most likely that the answer will be: Yes, quite a lot.

In the Cleveland Metropolitan School District last week, teachers returning from an extended spring break tried to hold virtual parent-teacher conferences for the first time for all of the district’s 38,000 students. Initially, they were able to reach only 60 percent of families, but after a few more days of trying, the number reached 87 percent, said Eric S. Gordon, the district’s chief executive.

The city of Cleveland has one of the nation’s highest child-poverty rates. Despite the economic slowdown, many parents continue to work full-time outside their homes in fields like sanitation, health and food service, meaning that many students do not have an adult at home to supervise their learning.

Mr. Gordon estimated that 30 to 40 percent of the district’s students also do not have reliable access to the internet at home. So in addition to developing plans for online learning, the district has distributed printed work packets along with free meals, and will soon begin mailing those packets to students’ home addresses.

Tracy Radich, a fourth-grade teacher at the Joseph M. Gallagher School in Cleveland, spent Tuesday and Wednesday going down her roster of 20 students, trying to call each student’s parents and make individual plans to help each of them learn from home.

Some of her students’ families speak Somali, Swahili or Spanish, so she asked colleagues who speak those languages to help.

So far, only three of her students have been consistently engaged with online lessons, she said. About six do not have regular access to the internet. One boy typically goes to the library to get online, but the city’s libraries are now closed, too. She expects to interact with several students mostly through phone calls.

“We are going to come together and meet everybody where they are,” Ms. Radich said.

School funding is typically tied to student enrollment or attendance counts across the country, but Ohio has unlinked funding from those counts, a policy that education experts expect most states to adopt in the coming weeks.


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