ON “60 MINUTES” SUNDAY: AT LEAST 240,000 STUDENTS WERE UNACCOUNTED FOR IN 78 OF AMERICA’S LARGEST SCHOOL DISTRICTS AS THE SCHOOL YEAR BEGAN IN THE PANDEMIC
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The American education system has come down with the coronavirus. Enrollment data from 78 of the largest school districts in the U.S. compiled by 60 MINUTES this fall found more than 240,000 students were unaccounted for when school started – the first school year to begin in the pandemic. Sharyn Alfonsi reports on where some of those students have gone and how officials are trying to locate them and return them to the education system on the next edition of 60 MINUTES Sunday, Nov. 22 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
Alfonsi spoke to social worker Laura Tucker, one of 235 social workers in the Tampa, Fla., school district of Hillsborough County, where she saw an unprecedented drop in enrollment. “Well here in Hillsborough County, we’re missing 7,000 students…We’ve never had that happen,” she says.
Tucker agreed to let Alfonsi and her team accompany her as she tracked down missing students. School districts told 60 MINUTES many of the missing students are among the youngest, such as 6-year-old Joshua. Tucker found Joshua living with his grandmother. The boy’s aunt says his grandmother had trouble earlier in the year putting the child through the e-learning program. Then she didn’t enroll him this fall in kindergarten when students would return to some in-person classes thinking his age made him vulnerable to COVID-19. For Joshua and others in his age group, missing pre-K or kindergarten could jeopardize his entire education. “My fear would be he would enter in first grade, he would then struggle and then by third grade when he’s taking those high stakes tests, he may not be able to progress in order to pass,” says Tucker. “So, if we can get him back in school, get him back on track, we can avoid all of that.”
Where else are these students? Some have moved away says Tucker. The economic impact of the coronavirus has decimated the large tourist economy of Florida, causing job losses and homelessness. Still others, believe Tucker, “are doing their own thing. They’re homeschooling and they just haven’t notified our homeschool office that that’s what they’ve decided to do,” she tells Alfonsi. “And then some of them just aren’t doing school. And you can get away with it right now. And that’s really scary.”
This summer, one student Tucker visited was a high school senior named Kiara. She began failing classes when learning went virtual in the spring. Tucker found her 30 minutes outside of Tampa caring for her grandmother during the pandemic Kiara tells Alfonsi, “Not having that teacher to really talk to was kind of difficult and just me not having a laptop at the time was difficult doing it on my phone. Just such a small screen,” she says.
She tells Tucker she misses school. The social worker seems to have succeeded in this case. “Today we made sure that she knows that we know that she’s coming back to school. Her plan is to do well. Her plan is not to disappear,” says Tucker.
School districts across the country have mobilized to make sure kids are in school. “Every principal is looking. Every assistant principal is looking. All the social workers are looking. The teachers are looking,” Tucker said.
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