where are they?
City teachers are scrambling to figure out what scares some officials of the 150,000 or more kids who haven’t set foot in school yet – and others who don’t show up someday.
“Reach out every absent student every day,” the education department instructed principals in a memorandum obtained by The Post last week.
Schools were told to follow-up daily with each missing child until they discovered the reason why he had not shown up – whether for a day or not at all.
“Access to families may include phone calls, text messages, postcards and, where possible, home visits,” the memo said.
In another urgent message, principals told staff that all schools with more than 20 percent of students absent would receive weekly visits from DOE higher-ups – a dangerous event. “We cannot continue in this direction,” warned one administrator.
“No one wants a trip from central when we have most of our paras (classroom aides who serve children with special needs) missing,” said one teacher.
“I think when we are not being given the necessary equipment and staff for the students to return to normal, there is a lot of pressure on them to bring things back to normal.”
The directions came a day after the city council’s education committee conducted an inspection hearing to receive answers on COVID-19 testing, quarantine and student attendance in schools.
Brooklyn councilman Mark Traeger, chairman of the education committee, said he had heard from contacts that some 150,000 students “have not been in a building” since classes began on September 13.
“Does this sound about right?” Treasure asked LaShawn Robinson, DOE’s deputy chancellor for school climate and wellness.
Robinson called that figure “unofficially, far from accurate”, but did not give a better number. “We’re focusing on every student every day.” he said. Treasure, who has urged the DOE to offer a remote instruction option to families, hit a brick wall while asking First Vice-Chancellor Donald Connors how many students are attending the city’s schools.
“I don’t have that number to give you,” replied DOE second-in-command Connors to Chancellor Misha Ross Porter, who did not testify.
At the same hearing, Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said he believed the city’s 180,000 children would not have come to school, and called for greater efforts to reach them.
Criticizing the DOE’s lack of transparency, he alleged, “They have attendance figures every day. They know how many kids didn’t come. They’re hiding it.”
A Brooklyn teacher told The Post that concern over COVID-19 is at least partly responsible for students dropping out of school. “Parents keep children at home on informal quarantine like cousins exposed in other schools. They don’t care about the DOE’s quarantine rules. “
After the hearing, the DOE again declined to disclose the raw number of students enrolled in its 1,600 schools.
According to the Independent Budget Office, the city reported a total of 955,490 children in pre-K through high school in the fall of 2020. This was less than 1,002,201 a year ago, with a loss of 46,711 students.
But enrollment may have slipped further during the turbulent 2020-21 school year, when two-thirds of students were instructed remotely and in-person attendance was low.
David Bloomfield, an education professor at Brooklyn College and CUNY Grad Center, said officials should give what they know, rather than a “vague and outrageous dismissal of public concern.”
“DOE’s refusal to provide accurate enrollment and attendance figures is not only disappointing, but adds to public distrust.”
DOE spokesman Nathaniel Steyer promised that the agency would respond soon.
“We will provide preliminary enrollment data after the rolls close at the end of the month,” he said on Friday. “We’ve never done this before, but we’re committed to getting it done.”
Officials said the DOE roster at the beginning of each school year includes students who have transferred or enrolled in different schools – which must be confirmed before leave.