September 27, 2023

She’d be a senior proper now, getting ready for commencement in a couple of months, most likely main her faculty’s fashionable dance troupe and taking artwork courses.

As a substitute, Kailani Taylor-Cribb hasn’t taken a single class in what was once her highschool because the peak of the coronavirus pandemic. She vanished from Cambridge, Massachusetts’ public faculty roll in 2021 and has been, from an administrative standpoint, unaccounted for since then.

She is amongst a whole bunch of 1000’s of scholars across the nation who disappeared from public colleges throughout the pandemic and didn’t resume their research elsewhere.

An evaluation by The Related Press, Stanford College’s Large Native Information mission and Stanford education professor Thomas Dee discovered an estimated 240,000 college students in 21 states whose absences couldn’t be accounted for. These college students didn’t transfer out of state, they usually didn’t join personal faculty or home-school, based on publicly accessible information.

Briefly, they’re lacking.

“Lacking” college students obtained crisis-level consideration in 2020 after the pandemic closed colleges nationwide. Within the years since, they’ve turn into largely a budgeting drawback. Faculty leaders and a few state officers nervous aloud concerning the fiscal challenges their districts faced if these college students didn’t come again. Every pupil represents cash from the town, state and federal governments.

Gone is the urgency to search out the scholars who left — these eligible free of charge public schooling however who usually are not receiving any education in any respect. Early within the pandemic, faculty staff went door-to-door to reach and reengage kids. Most such efforts have ended.

“Everyone seems to be speaking about declining enrollment, however nobody is speaking about who’s leaving the system and why,” mentioned Tom Sheppard, a New York Metropolis father or mother and consultant on the town’s Panel for Academic Coverage.

“Nobody,” he mentioned, “is forthcoming.”


The lacking children recognized by AP and Stanford characterize excess of a quantity. The evaluation highlights 1000’s of scholars who could have dropped out of college or missed out on the basics of reading and faculty routines in kindergarten and first grade.

That’s 1000’s of scholars who matter to somebody. 1000’s of scholars who need assistance re-entering faculty, work and on a regular basis life.

“That’s the stuff that nobody needs to speak about,” mentioned Sonja Santelises, the chief government officer of Baltimore’s public colleges, talking about her fellow superintendents.

“We need to say it’s outdoors stuff” that’s preserving children from returning to highschool, she mentioned, corresponding to caring for youthful siblings or the necessity to work. However she worries teenagers generally lack caring adults at college who can talk about their considerations about life.

“That’s actually scary,” Santelises mentioned.

Dialogue of youngsters’s restoration from the pandemic has centered largely on test scores and performance. However Dee says the info suggests a necessity to know extra about youngsters who aren’t in class and the way that can have an effect on their growth.

“That is main proof that tells us we should be wanting extra fastidiously on the children who’re now not in public colleges,” he mentioned.

Over months of reporting, the AP discovered of scholars and households avoiding faculty for a variety of causes. Some are nonetheless afraid of COVID-19, are homeless or have left the nation. Some college students couldn’t research on-line and located jobs as a substitute. Some slid into melancholy.

Throughout the prolonged online learning, some college students fell to this point behind developmentally and academically that they no longer knew how to behave or study at college. Many of those college students, whereas largely absent from class, are nonetheless formally on faculty rosters. That makes it tougher to really rely the variety of lacking college students. The true tally of younger individuals not receiving an schooling is probably going far higher than the 240,000 determine calculated by the AP and Stanford.

In some circumstances, this wasn’t sudden. Many college students had been struggling effectively earlier than the pandemic descended.

Kailani, for one, had begun to really feel alienated at her faculty. In ninth grade, a couple of months earlier than the pandemic hit, she was sad at dwelling and had been moved to a distinct math class due to poor grades.

Kailani has ADHD and says the white educating assistant assigned to assist her focus in her new class focused her as a result of she was Black, blaming Kailani when classmates acted up. She additionally didn’t enable Kailani to make use of her headphones whereas working independently in school, one thing Kailani says was permitted in her particular schooling plan to assist her focus.

After that, Kailani stopped attending math. As a substitute, she cruised the hallways or learn within the library.

In the end, the pandemic and at-home schooling relieved the nervousness Kailani felt from being within the faculty constructing. Kailani most well-liked on-line faculty as a result of she may flip off her digital camera and have interaction as she selected. Her grades improved.

When the varsity reopened, she by no means returned.

A Cambridge colleges spokesperson appeared into Kailani’s complaints. “A number of people demonstrated nice concern and compassion in direction of her and the challenges she was dealing with outdoors of college,” Sujata Wycoff mentioned. She mentioned the district has a “fame of being deeply devoted to the schooling and well-being of our college students.”


To evaluate simply what number of college students have gone lacking, AP and Large Native Information canvassed each state within the nation to search out essentially the most just lately accessible information on each public and personal colleges, in addition to census estimates for the school-age inhabitants.

Total, public faculty enrollment fell by 710,000 college students between the 2019-20 and 2021-22 faculty years within the 21 states plus Washington, D.C., that supplied the mandatory information.

These states noticed private-school enrollment develop by over 100,000 college students. Home-schooling grew even more, surging by greater than 180,000.

However the information confirmed 240,000 college students who had been neither in personal faculty nor registered for home-school. Their absences couldn’t be defined by inhabitants loss, both — corresponding to falling beginning charges or households who moved out of state.

States the place kindergarten is non-compulsory had been extra prone to have bigger numbers of unaccounted-for college students, suggesting the lacking additionally embody many younger learners saved dwelling as a substitute of beginning faculty.

California alone confirmed over 150,000 lacking college students within the information, and New York had practically 60,000. Census estimates are imperfect. So AP and Stanford ran an identical evaluation for pre-pandemic years in these two states. It discovered nearly no lacking college students in any respect, confirming one thing out of the odd occurred throughout the pandemic.

The true variety of lacking college students is probably going a lot greater. The evaluation doesn’t embody information from 29 states, together with Texas and Illinois, or the unknown numbers of ghost college students who’re technically enrolled however not often make it to class.

For some college students, it was unimaginable to beat losing the physical connection with faculty and academics throughout the pandemic’s faculty closures.

José Escobar, an immigrant from El Salvador, had solely just lately enrolled within the tenth grade in Boston Public Faculties when the campus shut down in March 2020. His school-issued laptop computer didn’t work, and due to bureaucratic hurdles, the district didn’t issue a new one for several weeks. His father stopped paying their cellphone payments after shedding his restaurant job. With none working know-how for months, he by no means logged into distant courses.

When instruction resumed on-line that fall, he determined to stroll away and discover work as a prep prepare dinner. “I can’t study that manner,” he mentioned in Spanish. At 21, he’s nonetheless eligible for varsity in Boston, however says he’s too previous for highschool and must work to assist his household.

One other Boston pupil grew to become severely depressed throughout on-line studying and was hospitalized for months. Again dwelling, he refuses to attend faculty or go away his room regardless of visits from a minimum of one instructor. When his mom requested him about talking to a reporter, he cursed her out.

These are all college students who’ve formally left faculty and have doubtless been erased from enrollment databases. Many others who’re enrolled usually are not receiving an schooling.

In Los Angeles final yr, practically half of scholars had been chronically absent, that means they missed greater than 10% of the varsity yr. For college kids with disabilities, the numbers are even greater: In response to district information, 55% missed a minimum of 18 faculty days. It’s not clear what number of college students had been absent greater than that. The town’s Unified Faculty District didn’t reply to requests for this information.


Los Angeles officers have spoken overtly about makes an attempt to search out unschooled college students and assist take away obstacles which are stopping them from coming to highschool. Laundry companies have been supplied, as has assist with housing. However for some college students and their mother and father, the issue sits inside a college system they are saying has routinely failed their youngsters.

“Mother and father are bereft,” mentioned Allison Hertog, who represents round three dozen households whose youngsters missed vital studying when California’s bodily lecture rooms closed for more than a year throughout the early pandemic.

Ezekiel West, 10, is in fourth grade however reads at a first grade level. Earlier than the pandemic shutdowns, he was shuffled from faculty to highschool when educators couldn’t tackle his impulsive conduct.

Throughout on-line studying, his mom couldn’t get dwelling web and struggled with the WiFi hotspots supplied by the varsity. She labored as a house well being aide and couldn’t monitor Ezekiel on-line.

When he returned to highschool in fall 2021 as a 3rd grader, he was annoyed that his classmates had made extra progress because the years handed.

“I didn’t really feel ready,” he mentioned in a latest cellphone interview. “I couldn’t actually study as quick as the opposite children, and that form of made me upset.”

An administrative decide dominated Los Angeles’ colleges had violated Ezekiel’s rights and ordered the district to present him a spot at a brand new faculty, with a particular plan to ease him again into studying and trusting academics. The varsity didn’t observe the plan, so his mom stopped sending him in October.

“I can’t belief them,” Miesha Clarke mentioned. Los Angeles faculty officers didn’t reply to requests for touch upon Ezekiel’s case.

Final month, Ezekiel signed up for a public on-line faculty for California college students. To enroll him, his mom agreed to surrender his particular schooling plan. His lawyer, Hertog, worries this system received’t work for somebody with Ezekiel’s wants and is in search of but another choice with extra flexibility.

At the least three of the scholars Hertog has represented, together with Ezekiel, have disappeared from faculty for lengthy intervals since in-person instruction resumed. Their conditions had been avoidable, she mentioned: “It’s fairly disgraceful that the varsity methods allowed this to go on for therefore lengthy.”

When Kailani stopped logging into her digital courses throughout the spring of her sophomore yr, she obtained a number of emails from the varsity telling her she’d been truant. Between two to 4 weeks after she disappeared from Zoom faculty, her homeroom advisor and Spanish instructor every wrote to her, asking the place she was. And the varsity’s dean of scholars referred to as her great-grandmother, her authorized guardian, to tell her about Kailani’s disappearance from faculty.

They didn’t talk additional, based on Kailani. She went to work at Chipotle, ringing up orders in Boston’s monetary district.

In December, Kailani moved to North Carolina to make a brand new begin. She teaches dance to elementary faculty children now. Final month, she handed her highschool equivalency exams. She needs to take choreography courses.

However she is aware of, wanting again, that issues may have been completely different. Whereas she has no regrets about leaving highschool, she says she may need modified her thoughts if somebody at college had proven extra curiosity and a focus to her wants and help for her as a Black pupil.

“All they needed to do was take motion,” Kailani mentioned. “There have been so many occasions they may have completed one thing. They usually did nothing.”


This text relies on data collected by The Related Press and Stanford College’s Big Local News mission. Information was compiled by Sharon Lurye of the AP, Thomas Dee of Stanford’s Graduate Faculty of Training, and Justin Mayo of Large Native Information.


The Related Press schooling crew receives help from the Carnegie Company of New York. The AP is solely accountable for all content material.

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