Analysis Estimates 230k Children In 21 States Missing School Post-pandemic

She’d be a senior, leading her school’s modern dance ensemble and attending art classes. Kailani Taylor-Cribb hasn’t attended her high school since the coronavirus pandemic. Since 2021, she’s been administratively missing from Cambridge, Massachusetts’ public schools.

She is one of the hundreds of thousands of students who left public schools during the pandemic and never returned. The Associated Press, Stanford University’s Big Local News project, and Stanford education professor Thomas Dee uncovered 230,000 unaccounted-for pupils in 21 states. According to public records, these pupils did not migrate out of state or attend private or home schools.

They’re gone. After the pandemic closed schools in 2020, “missing” pupils became a crisis. They’ve become a fiscal issue since. If these pupils didn’t return, school administrators and some state authorities worried about their districts’ finances.

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The drive to discover children who left—those entitled to free public education but not attending school—has subsided. AP and Stanford’s lost kids aren’t just numbers. The study shows thousands of kids who may have dropped out or missed the basics.

“That’s the stuff that no one wants to talk about,” Sonja Santelises, Baltimore’s public school CEO, spoke about her fellow superintendents. Test scores and performance have dominated pandemic recovery discussions for youngsters. This is leading evidence that tells us we need to be looking more carefully at the kids who are no longer in public schools,” Analysis by Dee.

The AP reported on youngsters and families skipping school for different reasons over months. Some are homeless, scared of COVID-19, or abroad. Students who couldn’t study online worked.

Some pupils fell so far behind academically and developmentally after lengthy online schooling that they no longer knew how to behave or study at school. Many of these children are on school rosters while being absent. That makes counting missing students difficult.

Before the pandemic, Kailani felt isolated at school. She was unhappy at home and moved to a different math class in ninth grade due to bad marks. Kailani’s new white teaching assistant blamed her for pupils’ misbehavior because she was Black. She quit math.

The pandemic and homeschooling reduced Kailani’s school anxiety. She never returned to school. Cambridge schools spokesperson Sujata Wycoff reported numerous attendees. “concern and compassion towards her and the challenges she was facing outside of school.”

Students Still Missing Post-Pandemic
Students Still Missing Post-Pandemic

AP and Big Local News searched every state for the latest public and non-public school statistics and census projections for the school-age population to determine how many pupils are missing. In the 21 states and D.C. that submitted data, public school enrollment declined by over 700,000 children between 2019-20 and 2021-22.

Those states added almost 100,000 private school students. Over 180,000. However, 230,000 pupils were neither in private school nor home-schooled. Population declines, such as declining birth rates or out-of-state migration, did not explain their absences. California has 150,000 missing students and New York has nearly 60,000.

Missing students may be higher. 29 states and ghost students are not included in the analysis. Some families blame the school system for failing their children. Ezekiel West, 10, reads like a first-grader in fourth grade. Before the pandemic shutdowns, he was moved from school to school because educators couldn’t handle his impulsivity.

His mother battled with school-provided WiFi connections during online learning. In the fall of 2021, he was frustrated that his peers had progressed more. “I couldn’t really learn as fast as the other kids, and that kind of made me upset,” he said.

An administrative judge ordered the district to place Ezekiel in a new school with a plan to ease him back into learning and trusting teachers after Los Angeles schools violated his rights. In October, his mother stopped sending him to school because the plan was not followed.

“I can’t trust them,” Miesha Clarke. Ezekiel’s issue was ignored by LAUSD officials. Ezekiel started public online school last month. His mother waived his special education plan to enroll him. Allison Hertog, Ezekiel’s attorney, thinks the program won’t work for him.

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Kailani received multiple truancy emails from the school when she stopped logging into her virtual lessons. The school dean informed her great-grandmother, her legal guardian. Kailani said they stopped talking. She worked at Chipotle in Boston’s financial sector, taking orders.

Kailani started over in North Carolina in December. She teaches elementary school dancing. She passed her HSEE last month. She thinks she wouldn’t have left high school if someone had paid more attention to her needs and supported her as a Black student.

“There were so many times they could have done something,” Kailani said. “And they did nothing.”

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