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Due to the pandemic, thousands of students in the United States simply disappeared: schools cannot find them for months

School districts across the country, which closed face-to-face attendance in mid-March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have coped with the transition to distance learning with varying degrees of success. During this time, schools lost many students. Many students who attended classes in early March could not be found on the Internet. And since then no one has seen the others who came in the spring. How school districts track children out of school, the newspaper said The Washington Post.

Photo: Shutterstock

Even before the pandemic, counties had to track children who stopped going to school or didn't show up in the new school year. They have strong incentives to find them, as funding for an educational institution is often allocated to each student. Sometimes it turns out that students have moved and moved to schools in other areas. And in some cases, they cannot be found.

But this year, students have disappeared from classrooms in unprecedented numbers, forcing districts to rethink their approach to dropout. Many districts are aware of the damage that student loss can cause. So they go to great lengths to track them down to make sure they are safe and have training devices.

Others, like Detroit and Miami, kept students on the roster even after they hadn't shown up for a full month. North Dakota has begun tracking attendance at all schools on a daily basis, and several schools have used coronavirus assistance to recruit people to search for missing students.

Several states have seen dramatic declines in enrollment this school year, and many have seen an increase in private or homeschooling. In addition, children who would go to preschool or daycare in the fall remain at home in droves, as these classes are not compulsory in most states. But there is another category of students - those who were supposed to be this year, but never showed up.

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In North Carolina, a state education official said in December that more than 10 students are not attending classes. In New Mexico, there were no more than 000 students at the start of the school year - children who were enrolled in school before the pandemic but never showed up in the fall. In February, the state's Department of Education said more than 12 students were still missing.

Katarina Sandoval, New Mexico State's Academic and Student Achievement Representative, said that in previous years, the number of students who did not attend school was low. Many of them dropped out of school.

But this year students of all grades disappeared. The state organized outreach to families and enlisted the help of social service agencies to support families struggling to get their children to school.

Many of these discrepancies are due to poor accounting systems. In many states, counties collect attendance data individually and do not have the ability to share with each other. Thus, a student who is simply transferred may be reported missing, and one who cannot be found may be living in a different district.

In Detroit, where the elective full-time buildings opened in the fall, there were more than 900 students who entered school only after October, that is, a few weeks after the start of the school year. The district, which has long struggled with absenteeism, launched an aggressive, private-fund-backed attendance initiative in 2019 that allowed it to hire attendance officers for each school to keep track of missing children.

During the pandemic, the district took advantage of this initiative to launch three door-to-door campaigns in which staff and volunteer parents were sent home to students who were not attending class, either online or in person.

When school districts reach out to families, they often do so through text messages, calls, emails, Facebook messages, and regular mail. This is a conversation that requires families to have a working mobile phone, internet access, and a permanent address. This means that families who move frequently, change cell phone numbers, or do not speak English may not be up to date and difficult to find.

The Sacramento City Unified School District learned this lesson the hard way when, after closing in mid-March, it lost contact with more than 1600 students. None of them answered the teachers' calls, and none of them logged in when the virtual classes began a month later.

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The district moved into action by dispatching staff to student homes and setting up a food truck in the middle of large apartment complexes to drag families and their children out into the streets. When they found a student, they collected current contact information and ensured that they had everything they needed to log in. If that didn't work, the county asked for addresses from the state food stamp program and from social service agencies. The fact is that about three-quarters of the district's students are eligible for low-cost health insurance, food stamps, or other social service programs.

By the summer, only 845 students were looking for. And by the beginning of the school year, only nine were out of reach.

Educators are deeply concerned when they cannot find out where a student is, whether he is studying, or whether he is safe. When classes take place in the school and students attend classes in person, it is easier for teachers to determine if a student is being abused. This becomes more difficult when the school closes and children no longer attend face-to-face classes. According to federal data, in 2018, educators accounted for about one-fifth of all child abuse reports.

"There are tons of missing children," said Haley Corman of Bellwether Education Partners, which studies what she calls the attendance crisis.

She is particularly concerned about underprivileged English learners, homeless students and immigrant students, whose families may have been particularly hard hit by the economic downturn.

“Historically, the school has been the site of daily health checks for many children,” explained Corman. "They don't have that anymore."

In the fall, the district reopened schools, but gave parents the choice of sending their children back to school or leaving them at home and allowing them to study online. About a quarter of parents said they would bring their children back. The rest were either unavailable or opted for virtual training.

After closing schools last spring, the district attempted to equip each of the district's 50 students with a laptop with built-in internet. To do this, he raised $ 000 million in three weeks from companies in Detroit to fund these initiatives. They distributed over 23 copies. But many students never came to pick up the device, in particular almost every child who went missing throughout the school year. About 45 percent of the children on this list were considered chronically absent before the pandemic.

Nicholas Vitti, superintendent of Detroit public schools, said the number of students not attending classes is staggering. In the spring, only 10 percent of students were involved in virtual learning, prompting the district to launch an aggressive home visitation campaign to ensure families have learning devices. Last fall, at the start of the school year, 8000 schoolchildren were still missing. About 5000 of them joined the academic year late.

“We have always had problems with truancy due to poverty,” Vitti said. "But there has never been a similar situation."

So it was with Cina Castigliano, who has raised three young children on her own since her husband, a drywall installer, was arrested last year and sent back to Mexico. This was followed by postpartum depression and eviction. In the fall, she enrolled her school-age children, 5-year-old Emiliana and 6-year-old Emilio, for face-to-face classes, but they rarely went there because she tried to find transportation for them every time. The situation worsened when schools closed in mid-November.

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The children had to share the device, and then she could not afford the Internet. “Not all families have someone to rely on,” Castigliano lamented.

Some families had easy-to-solve problems that prevented students from getting into virtual classrooms. One high school student skipped school due to the loss of her laptop charger, but it was later reinstated. Another boy's mother explained that he simply could not log in. Students often weren't logged in because neither they nor their parents could figure out how to do it, Chapman said. In such cases, he and other employees sent home became de facto IT specialists.

Chapman said it is not uncommon for you to find a family whose children have stopped studying because there was no electricity in the house.

The most disturbing are cases when no one answers a knock on the door, or when the address belongs to an abandoned house.

The attendance crisis will have lifelong consequences for students who miss weeks or months of class, or who decide to drop out altogether.

“They may not come back at all. They may not finish high school, - summed up Corman. - It will be difficult for them when they themselves start raising their own children. We will see the consequences for generations. ”

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