When Fall River teen David Almond, who was under Department of Children and Families supervision, was found dead, allegedly due to abuse and neglect by his father and girlfriend, one question raised was whether state officials were taking sufficient steps to monitor whether the most at-risk students were actually attending school during the pandemic. Almond, who was signed up for remote learning with the Fall River public schools, never attended class and his caregivers avoided the school’s attempts to reach out.
A budget amendment sponsored in response to the tragedy required the state to report on school attendance for students under the supervision of the Department of Children and Families, or DCF.
The first version of that report, filed Tuesday, puts some initial figures on what percentage of DCF-involved students attended school last year.
According to the report, DCF-involved students who had in-person school attended 93 percent of the time, while DCF-involved students with remote school attended 88 percent of the time. (The data is based on how instruction is provided each day, so in a hybrid model, students would count as in-person whenever they were in school for part of a day.)
Overall, school attendance rates for this population were 90 percent, a drop from 93 percent during the same time period the previous year.
Statewide among all students, the attendance rate was 94 percent last year – although the statewide data reflects March 1 enrollment figures, while the DCF data was current as of October 1.
Among DCF-involved students, 43 percent of instruction was in person and 55 percent was remote, with the mode of learning unknown for the others.
Based on the report, there did not appear to be major racial disparities, other than that Asian and Native American DCF-involved children attended in-person school at the highest rates. There were not major differences between special education students and non-special education students. For remote learning, attendance rates were highest among elementary school students (92 percent) and lowest in high school (85 percent), while attendance was more consistent between grade levels for in-person education.
By far, the students least likely to be attending school were those in the STARR program, part of the DCF system that provides short-term residential placements of up to 45 days for children who need stabilization services like individual or family therapy before they can be reunited with their families. Those children attended in-person school 86 percent of the time and remote learning just 71 percent of the time.
The data includes around 5,200 students in DCF custody but excludes another 1,500 children whose names and birthdates could not be easily matched with Department of Elementary and Secondary Education records.
A spokesperson for DESE said the agency has focused on ensuring all students were engaged in school, regardless of DCF status. That meant tracking students who were learning remotely and ultimately bringing all students back in person. State regulations specify that districts using remote learning must have a system for tracking attendance and participation, and teachers and administrators must regularly communicate with students and their parents or guardians.
Rep. Michael Finn, a West Springfield Democrat who co-chairs the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, said the numbers are generally positive, but still show that there are a significant number of students who are not having their needs met. He said he hopes it will be easier to track students and get them services next fall, when all kids are back in school in-person full-time. “Until we get to 100 percent, we have a long way to go,” Finn said.
Anonymous votes: The House decisively beat back attempts by a group of left-leaning Democrats and Republicans to amend the rules of the chamber so the public could see how lawmakers vote on bills in legislative committees.
— It was a strange debate, as representatives on the political left and right pushed for greater disclosure and the majority in the middle argued that disclosing how they vote would hinder law-making, overburden staffers who would need to gather the information, and be misconstrued.
— The final rules package called for reporting committee votes on bills with anonymous tallies for those voting yes, those not voting, and those reserving their rights. The names of those voting no would be reported, however. The original bill drafted by House leadership wouldn’t have disclosed how any lawmaker voted, but Rep. William Galvin, the chair of the House Rules Committee, said that was a mistake and corrected the language with a technical amendment on the House floor.
— Lawmakers also rejected an attempt to restore term limits for the speaker and passed an order postponing the start date of the new rules until October 1, when the State House is expected to reopen.
— The new House rules cover only the operations of the House. Joint rules covering the operation of legislative committees consisting of both House and Senate members are still in limbo, with the two chambers at odds. The Senate favors full disclosure of how lawmakers vote on bills, while the House is sticking with its minimal disclosure approach. Read more.
DYS incident: An employee at a Department of Youth Services facility in Springfield suffered life-threatening injuries after being assaulted by a juvenile being housed there. Details on exactly what happened were sketchy. DYS is the state’s juvenile justice agency, which supervises youth between ages 12 and 21 who are committed by the courts because they are awaiting trial or have committed a serious criminal offense. In 2020, there were 1,080 youth admitted to DYS facilities, with another approximately 500 held overnight after an arrest. The agency has 818 employees, according to its annual report. Read more.
Be a good landlord: The Somerset Select Board is drafting a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker, urging him to be a responsible landlord at Brayton Point and deal with tenants who have alienated local residents by improperly launching a scrap metal operation using state land. The letter, still in its draft stages, seeks to bring the governor into the dispute between the town and the owner of the 308-acre Brayton Point property, which is currently home to the scrap metal operating but being groomed as a base for the offshore wind industry. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
The North of Boston Media Group editorial board pans the House for continuing to keep secret how lawmakers voted on bills in committee.
After a public outcry, Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration reverses course and lets people swim again at undesignated spots at Walden Pond. (Boston Globe)
Lawmakers are urged not to split towns when drawing redistricting lines. (Salem News)
Massachusetts is turning up its nose at Gov. Baker’s vaccine lottery. Less than half the state’s eligible population has entered VaxMillions since entries opened, July 1. (WBUR)
Haitian authorities begin hunting down those who assassinated the Haitian president, amid growing fears of increased violence there. (New York Times)
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s Washington, DC law license is suspended until his New York suspension is resolved. (Associated Press)
Broadband access is a luxury not all Massachusetts residents can afford and the issue is getting attention at the federal level, as officials debate allocating $65 billion to closing the digital divide in America. (Herald News)
Candidates for governor – those in the race and those not yet in the race – are stockpiling campaign cash. (Associated Press) Jim Braude interviews Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl. (WGBH)
City Councilor Cliff Ponte will challenge incumbent Paul Coogan in the Fall River mayoral race this fall. He says the city is at a crossroads and must develop long-term strategic plans to provide taxpayer relief. (Herald News)
WBUR traces the origin of a widely cited economic figure — that black families had a median net worth of $8 in 2015.
In legal filings, Boston school officials deny they illegally withheld texts exchanged during a charged meeting over exam school admissions when they were required to submit evidence in a federal court case. (Boston Globe)
$611 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds will go to supplementary education for students who suffered the greatest learning loss during the pandemic as well as to the safe reopening of schools. (WBUR)
The artist Hunt Slonem purchases Searles Castle in Great Barrington and plans to fix it up. (Berkshire Eagle)
US Rep. Seth Moulton is disheartened by what he says is Gov. Charlie Baker’s preference for automobiles over public transit. “Gov. Baker doesn’t seem to be focused on anything except expanding roads,” Moulton said. “There’s nothing given to rail — not even the time of day.” (Daily Item)
A founder of New England Compounding Center, the pharmacy company responsible for a deadly meningitis outbreak, is resentenced to 14 years in prison. (Associated Press)
More Rise of the Moors militia members reject the authority of the court in their initial court appearances. (MassLive) The Boston Globe reports that the group is part of a growing national movement of people who claim to be sovereign citizens and believe they are exempt from US law.
Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Gulluni and Sheriff Nick Cocchi come out in favor of allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers’ licenses. (MassLive)
A federal appeals court overturns the US Food and Drug Administration’s ban on the use of controversial electric shock devices used at the Judge Rotenberg Center, a residential school. The electric shock devices are used as a behavioral modification tool for students with mental illness who become aggressive or self-injurious. (MassLive)
A Black man sues the Needham Police after he says four officers racially profiled him when they wrongly suspected him of shoplifting at CVS and arrested him, while he was on his way to work. (Boston Globe)
Longtime Newburyport firefighter and reserve police officer Brett Burkinshaw dies at 47 of brain cancer. (Eagle-Tribune)