The COVID-19 pandemic and the need for virtual learning have heightened truancy problems in the Superior School District.

“Many students are finding success in the virtual model. However, we have many students not engaging or not attending,” said District Administrator Amy Starzecki.

Families were recently given a chance to change their children’s instruction methods. The window to make the changes closed Oct. 22. In general, Starzecki said about the same amount of students asked to move to virtual schooling as those asking to return to hybrid classrooms. She told Superior School Board members at the Friday, Oct. 30 committee of the whole meeting that more elementary school families are requesting the hybrid method; at the secondary level, more families requested to move to virtual.

“I’m growing increasingly concerned about our truancy and our attendance rates in this model,” Starzecki said. “It’s a challenge. The virtual model is a challenge for students and families. The structure’s harder, the routines are harder, and we’re seeing higher rates of truancy and higher rates of absenteeism.”

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The effects could stay with students for years, because it's hard for children to make up lost learning time, Starzecki said.

Students are considered truant if they’ve missed 10% or more days of school. The district is working with families to identify barriers to learning and work through them.

“If they’re going to be virtual learners, then they have to be at the computer — they have to be engaged in learning; and if they’re going to be hybrid learners they have to come to school,” Starzecki said.

It’s a problem that could be exacerbated by the upcoming holiday season. Starzecki said the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the district has remained stable, hovering below 30 for the last three weeks.

However, district officials said they expect to see more cases after the holidays.

“We anticipate there will be more risky behavior taking place over Thanksgiving and Christmas, and we’re likely to see increased rates,” she said.

The district intends to share information with families encouraging them to keep gatherings small and to maintain physical distancing during the holidays. It’s the same message Douglas County Public Health Officer Kathy Ronchi offered Wednesday, Oct. 28.

“For the most part, people want kids to be able to be in school,” Ronchi said. “What we’re seeing so far is it’s a stable, consistent place for kids to be ... for mental health, for physical health, for all of these different things.”

Decisions on holding in-person classes are based on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county, however. And those numbers have been ticking up, fueled by people getting together at sleepovers, weddings, over lunch breaks and more. Ronchi encouraged parents to be mindful of decisions they make for Thanksgiving, Christmas and everything that happens in between.

The keys to keeping case numbers down are for children to stay home if they have any symptoms and to maintain physical distance, she said. People should also keep their circle of contacts small, limit interactions with vulnerable populations, wash hands frequently and wear a mask.

Cold or COVID-19?

People may wonder if that cough, light fever or headache is just a cold or symptoms of COVID-19.

“What we’re seeing routinely is people starting out with a little scratchy throat and a little bit of a dry cough, and then it moves into the headache and then fever and chills. Loss of taste and smell doesn’t always happen,” Ronchi said. “It is just sort of that generally not feeling well. Pay attention to that.”

If you’re having cold symptoms and your cold medicine isn’t helping, she said, it’s probably COVID-19. Many current Douglas County cases were spread by people who went to work or went out when they were already showing mild symptoms, maybe just a sore throat and a cough.

“If you have any question at all, limit who will be your close contacts,” Ronchi said. “Avoid being within 6 feet of people for more than 15 minutes. That would make all the difference in our transmission rates.”

COVID-19 testing is available on a bi-weekly basis in Superior at the Amsoil Distribution Center, 1102 Susquehanna Ave. Testing takes place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6; Friday, Nov. 20; and Friday, Dec. 4.