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Prolonged school closures have reportedly resulted in millions of students going 'missing' from school systems


'Functionally disappeared'

Hyoung Chang/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

An eye-popping number of students have reportedly gone "missing" from public school systems around the country amid prolonged school closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, ABC News determined in a shocking new report published Tuesday.

The news, which serves as yet another sad reminder of the unintended injury caused by lengthy and exorbitant shutdown policies, is poised to add fuel to the fiery debate over reopening schools happening now in countless American communities.

"A notable number of students seem to have simply fallen off the grid, not showing up for online or in-person instruction, their whereabouts unknown by school officials," the report stated, adding that the dilemma has left experts and educators scrambling to find the students and come up with policies to buck the dangerous trend.

The report made mention of a recent study put forward by Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit focused on underserved communities, which estimates that as many as 3 million of America's "most educationally marginalized students in the country" have "functionally disappeared" since last March, when the pandemic first forced schools to close. The group claims to have arrived at its estimate by making projections based upon the "percentage of at-risk groups not in school, based on media reports and available data."

In its report, ABC News gave credence to the estimate, though it stopped short of explicitly confirming it. Nevertheless, after contacting officials from school systems in all 50 states, the outlet determined that many states who tracked such information confirmed they have seen a "significant decline in their enrollment numbers," while many other states "reported they have thousands of missing students."

Here are a few of the examples cited in the report:

  • "In Michigan, K-12 enrollment decreased this fall by some 53,000 students out of about 1.5 million students."
  • "In Dallas, Texas, which was home to approximately 153,000 students last year, there are about 9,000 high-schoolers, 2,000 middle-schoolers, and 1,000 elementary school students unaccounted for."
  • "In Florida, officials are trying to determine the whereabouts of nearly 88,000 students who were expected for the 2020-'21 academic year and failed to show up in the fall."

The report noted that students can go missing for a variety of reasons. Students from low-income families, in particular, may not have the access to technology needed to participate in distance learning. It could also be that the economic downturn that resulted from the pandemic caused poorer students to be more at risk of missing school.

In any case, the tragic revelations confirm some of the fears many critics of school closures have expressed for the better part of a year; namely, that with schools closed indefinitely, students would inevitably be left behind.

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