Unprecedented numbers of students have disappeared during the pandemic (subscription)

School districts across the country that closed buildings in mid-March in response to the coronavirus pandemic handled the transition to remote learning with varying levels of success. During the disruption, schools lost track of students. Many students who were present in the classroom in early March could not be found online. And others who showed up in the spring haven’t been seen since.

Even before the pandemic, districts had to track down children who had stopped showing up to school or had failed to appear for a new school year. They have strong incentives to find them; school funding is often allocated on a per-pupil basis. Sometimes it turns out students have moved and enrolled in other districts. Other times they can’t be found and are removed from the rolls.

But this year, students have disappeared from classes in unprecedented numbers, forcing districts to rethink their approach to those who stop showing up. Many districts, cognizant of the damage that lost school time can cause, have employed extraordinary efforts to track down students to ensure that they are safe and have devices to learn. Others, like Detroit and Miami, have kept students on rosters even after they failed to show for an entire month. North Dakota began tracking attendance for all schools on a daily basis, and several schools used coronavirus aid to hire family liaisons to find missing students.

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