Teachers, administrators, and office staff across Shelby County Schools are working to contact almost 3,000 Memphis students who have been unaccounted for since online classes began two weeks ago.
Students in Tennessee’s largest district are all receiving instruction online until the number of new coronavirus cases drops consistently into the single digits. The district provided internet hot spots for those who need them and new laptops and tablets for all students.
During a school board committee meeting Monday, the district reported 2,955 students who haven’t attended classes nor claimed their laptop. They represent about 3% of the district’s estimated enrollment. Angela Whitelaw, a deputy superintendent, said staff members are calling parents to find out what is keeping their children away from school.
“We’re following up with family and community engagement to find out exactly where students are located before we count them as a ‘no show,’” she said.
The district has gone through a similar process every year to find students who were slated to show up to class, and usually takes missing students off rosters at the end of the first week, a district spokeswoman said.
It’s unclear whether the missing students have transferred to other schools or are missing instruction completely. District leaders said they want to find out why before removing the students from the school roster at the end of this week. The district depends on enrollment and attendance numbers to determine state funding.
School systems across the nation have had trouble finding students when learning moves online — sometimes because of old problems such as late registration and sometimes because of connectivity issues. Shelby County Schools has a new category of excused absences for students whose parents contact the school about connectivity issues or a power outage as students learn remotely.
This year, school staff are anticipating more obstacles to learning because of the pandemic and the resulting economic fallout. The city’s utility company is resuming cutoffs for overdue bills this week and the district’s fundraising organization is starting to give families money to pay them so they aren’t disconnected from online classes. About 60% of district students live in poverty.
The district did not provide the number of students who have not logged on to classes even though they picked up a device. Amity Schuyler, the district’s chief of strategy and innovation, said students who have had no contact with school staff are the district’s priority.
If a student has picked up a device, “it’s clear they’ve been receiving messages from the district… they would be considered engaged in some way,” she said.
Miska Clay Bibbs, the school board’s chairwoman, said she wants to have frequent updates about how district staff are responding to student needs during virtual learning.