How many children are missing from our schools? That’s the question the city Department of Education refuses to answer. Usually by October, total enrollment and daily attendance numbers are collected and shared with the public.
Not this school year. But based upon what the UFT is hearing from sources, there may be anywhere from 140,000 to 180,000 fewer children attending school on a regular basis than last fall.
Where are these children and why are they absent? It’s a basic task of the school system to track down this information and make every effort to engage their families.
The DOE only took action after Education Committee Chair Mark Treyger and UFT President Michael Mulgrew pressed the city at a City Council hearing on Oct. 6 to intensify its outreach to chronically absent students.
But it dumped the responsibility on schools, insisting they follow up daily with each missing kid until they could pinpoint the reason that child wasn’t showing up. The city also threatened schools that had more than 20% of students absent with weekly visits from DOE officials.
The DOE didn’t provide additional funds for in-person outreach. Nor is it sharing enrollment data so schools would know if a child missing from one school had showed up elsewhere in the school system. In mid-October, mass robocalls, voiced by Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter, were sent out to urge parents to send their kids to school.
We must find these missing kids and, if they haven’t left the city or transferred to another school, figure out how to ease them back into the school routine. It calls for a conversation, not a robocall.
The DOE leadership would do well to seek the counsel of attendance teachers, who are experts in this work.
During a pandemic, it’s more important than ever to listen to our students’ parents and caregivers, address their concerns and help remove any barriers to attendance.