Nearly 100 Schenectady school district students have attended five or fewer days of school – or none at all – this school year, according to figures provided by the district, about 1 percent of district students.
The district has been unable to connect at all with five students this school year and another 94 students have only attended for a handful of days. Interim Superintendent Aaron Bochniak said the bulk of the disconnected students attend the high school, where along with the district’s middle school all students are learning remotely.
“I think we would consider this a crisis situation for sure,” Bochniak said in a Tuesday interview. “First, it’s about kids’ health and safety and welfare. The second part is if they are not here they cannot learn.”
Bochniak said the pool of students attending so few days has shrunk somewhat in recent weeks as educators have continued efforts to connect with students and families to find solutions to get schools attending more regularly.
District staff, for example, have distributed desks directly to student homes because many kids did not have a workspace at home conducive to hours of virtual lessons.
At the beginning of the year, with some teachers still unsure of their exact assignments for the year, many students were unable to participate due to a lack of technology or internet access. Some students were required to stay out of school – including virtual school for a period of time – because they had not completed all required childhood vaccinations.
At each school building, teams teachers, administrators, social workers, counselors and psychologists work on individual plans for reaching students. The school-based teams call families, send emails and letters and make home visits in an attempt to make a connection with a family. Bochniak said the goal is to find ways to remove whatever barriers are preventing students from attending school on a regular basis.
While a somewhat similar process plays out each year, the persistent challenge in connecting with what becomes a shrinking pool of students over time stretched further into this school year than in the past, Bochniak said.
Bochniak said the top priority for all of the students, particularly the five students with no contact so far, was to ensure they were safe and healthy. He said it was possible the five students had relocated to a different district or state, but that district officials have yet to receive an official notification of their whereabouts. (If a student enrolled in a nearby district, Schenectady would have been notified.)
Bochniak said the district had initiated PINS cases in connection to some of the most truant students, estimating the total was less than 10; PINS stands for person in need of supervision and is a type of legal process to provide judicial oversight of a child.
The missing students are also falling further and further behind academically – the tip of a “COVID slide” that educators fear will set many student back academically and exacerbate existing racial disparities in academic opportunities and outcomes for years to come.
“At the end of the day, it’s disrupting that student’s learning, and we want to lessen that disruption as much as possible,” Bochniak said.
School board members asked Bochniak at last week’s board meeting about how many students were completely disconnected from the school system; he didn’t have the numbers at the time but promised to provide them to the board.
At next week’s board meeting, district officials will present its first quarterly update of student academic, attendance and behavior data. Bochniak said the report will include the results of assessments the district administered in October to gauge where students stood academically in math and reading. In previewing the findings, Bochniak said students appeared to have made some academic gains from the start of last school year to this school year, though not as much progress as a comparable cohort would have the prior year.