More than 16,000 South Carolina public school students have not checked in with their teachers since mid-March, when children across the state began remote learning in the pandemic, according to updated data released this week by the S.C. Department of Education.
In Charleston County alone, 356 out of 49,928 enrolled students have not checked in.
In Berkeley County, 622 of 36,915 are unaccounted for and 143 of 25,975 are unaccounted for in Dorchester School District 2. Across the three counties, there are 1,121 students who have missed instruction since mid March.
In comments to lawmakers and to the Charleston City Paper, Charleston Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait initially said 23 students were unaccounted for. The district released this statement Thursday:
“The numbers shared by Dr. Postlewait at the committee hearing in Columbia were based on the best numbers available to her at that time … We were not aware of their reported numbers when the [City Paper] interview was conducted. We do not dispute the state survey numbers for CCSD.”
Schools across the state tallied 16,085 K-12 students have not been in contact with either their teacher or school staff since mid-March. That is 2 percent of the 787,069 students enrolled 45 days into the 2019-2020 school year. Three school districts have yet to report numbers.
State lawmakers and child advocates have said the figures are concerning because children, especially those in low-income households, could lose out on learning and, with fewer abuse and neglect cases reported, they could be in bad situations, completely unknown. That was a fear confirmed by Postlewait who said many of the children who were initially disengaged with school and later found in possible neglect and homeless situations.
The percentage of unaccounted-for children is down sharply from the Department of Education’s original estimate of 4 percent to 5 percent of students, according to Spearman’s comments following an April 1 teacher survey.
Lexington Republican Sen. Katrina Shealy said she wants more federal money to be directed to aid the S.C. Department of Social Services finding the students.
“Then, the Department of Education needs to use whatever money they’re getting to help catch these children up,” she said. Last week, the legislature convened briefly to approve $222.7 million in federal money for the S.C. Department of Education and school districts to fund in-person education programs prior to the start of school to help catch up kids who have fallen behind during remote learning.
The ReOpenSC Senate Select Committee’s June 11 report to the Senate President included a recommendation that the Department of Education seek the assistance of DSS to help locate students.
“DSS is ready and willing to assist at the Department of Education’s direction,” DSS Public Information and Media Relations Director Marilyn Matheus emailed last week.