A face-to-face class at Harms Elementary School on the first day of classes Sept. 8. Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said 78% of district students have shown up for classes. Valaurian Waller/Bridge Detroit
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This story also appeared in Chalkbeat Detroit

After a week of instruction in the Detroit school district, just 78% of the students who signed up for online or face-to-face learning have shown up for class.

The number, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said during a school board meeting Tuesday, highlights the challenges Detroit and districts across the nation face as “the traditional way of learning and going to school has been disrupted by the pandemic.”

Last year at this time, 90% of the district’s 51,000 students had shown up for classes.

“Active and consistent attendance … is our greatest threat, outside of student achievement,” Vitti said.

Similar drops in attendance are happening across the country. In Chicago on the first day last week, 84.2% of students attended online class, a 10 percentage point drop from the usual first-day figures. But attendance rates varied widely from school to school. In Memphis, district staff in Shelby County Schools are working to contact almost 3,000 students who have been unaccounted for since online classes began two weeks ago.

Vitti said the district will step up its efforts to get students in school, including another round of home visits. Those efforts will intensify up through the period in early October when student attendance will determine how much state aid schools receive. Vitti said the district will keep it up even after this period because “it’s important that we stay engaged.”

He said the district appears to be enrolling more students who are new to the district, but he said it’s too early to be sure.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Vitti gave school board members an overview of what the district has seen since classes began Sept. 8. About 75% of the district’s students are learning online, while 25% are learning in person.

The district provided parents with three options for learning during the 2020-21 school year. In addition to online or in-person learning, parents could choose to have their students learn online while being in a school building in learning centers. A support staff member oversees those learning centers.

Vitti said 2,300 students have attended the learning centers. That number is growing daily, he said.

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