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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

The students who never returned

A quarter-million students who left public schools during the pandemic are missing, according to an analysis of 21 states and the District of Columbia by AP and Stanford's Big Local News Project.

"These students didn’t move out of state, and they didn’t sign up for private school or home-school, according to publicly available data," report Bianca Vazquez Toness and Sharon Lurye.

Photo: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

"The analysis doesn’t include data from 29 states, including Texas and Illinois, or the unknown numbers of ghost students who are technically enrolled but rarely make it to class," they add. So the real number is much higher.

"During the prolonged online learning, some students fell so far behind developmentally and academically that they no longer knew how to behave or learn at school," Toness and Lurye write. Post-pandemic disruption has made it much harder for teachers to teach and their classmates to learn.

In the states covered by the study, public school enrollment fell by 710,000 students, but only 100,000 went to private schools and 180,000 to registered home-schools. Researchers estimated 240,000 students were missing, they write.

In states where kindergarten is optional, many five-year-olds weren't signed up for virtual school and their parents didn't report plans to homeschool.

Older students are probably working.

José Escobar, an immigrant from El Salvador, had only recently enrolled in the 10th grade in Boston Public Schools when the campus shut down in March 2020. His school-issued laptop didn’t work, and because of bureaucratic hurdles the district didn’t issue a new one for several weeks. His father stopped paying their phone bills after losing his restaurant job. Without any working technology for months, he never logged into remote classes.
When instruction resumed online that fall, he decided to walk away and find work as a prep cook.

Kailani Taylor-Cribb, who was struggling before her Cambridge, Massachusetts school closed, "stopped logging into her virtual classes during the spring of her sophomore year," they write. She found a job at Chipotle. She moved to North Carolina, passed her high school equivalency exams and now works as a dance teacher. She hopes to study choreography.

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