Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic school absence has been on the rise in Dallas ISD, but district leaders have a plan to turn that around.
There’s almost no part of life that the pandemic hasn’t touched. That includes our education system.
The district noticed a troubling trend over the past year. Students would attend classes for a couple of days, then stop. Teachers have tried to make contact, but their efforts haven’t been successful.
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“They’ve done an amazing job trying to contact their kids, morning, noon and night. Emails, all kinds of ways to get these kids that were there for a couple of days and all of a sudden, they were no longer present,” said Vincent Reyes, Dallas ISD assistant superintendent for school leadership. “I mean we’ve never seen anything like this before.”
So, the district launched the initiative "Operation Comeback."
Volunteers, mostly employed by the district, are tasked with contacting absent students or their parents. The outreach includes postcards, emails and, starting this week, door-to-door home visits.
“We have students that enrolled, were going to classes, and then somehow became unengaged. We’re already talking serious businesses because they’re experiencing learning loss by not being in school,” Reyes said. “Now they’re having to deal with a truancy letter.”
He said the problem was most prominent among high school students. Overall, he said attendance typically hovers around 95% throughout the district. He said that number has dropped to 91%. It’s a difference that might not seem like a lot, but with nearly 154,000 students enrolled in Dallas public schools, that’s roughly 6,000 additional absent students.
Reyes said the long-term implications could trickle into the workforce. Above all, though, returning to school is for the benefit of the students.
“We want them back,” he said. “The teachers want them back. The schools want them back.”
Reyes said the reasons for increased absences vary. Some students struggle with connectivity. Others are juggling work and school to help their families during job loss and furloughs. And others have simply become despondent by the pandemic.
For more information on Operation Comeback, click here.