FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) - A large number of Fort Wayne Community Schools students are missing from class, according to school board member Steve Corona. The news broke during ABC21's Political Radar with Brien McElhatten.
"We've lost 900 kids this year," Corona explained. "Some families have just given up. It's just too hard for them. But this is going to be a tough year for kids in advancing what they know and we're just going to have to understand that."
Corona said the problem began as the pandemic forced many students to learn from home in what has been a school year unlike any other. District staff are trying to reach the missing students, Corona said, but that is proving to be a challenge.
"We are making those calls. Some of them give us answers, some of them not. We're going to have to work on them, work on getting them back," he said.
Indeed, the pandemic has brought unparalleled disruptions to an education system that is rooted in consistency and procedure. District officials have said previously that several thousand Fort Wayne students lack access to broadband or the devices to use it. In those cases, teachers send work packets home with students.
Outside the classroom, learning environments are inconsistent and often unpredictable. The problem is worse for underprivileged students or those who do not speak English as a first language. With some families facing eviction at the year's end, Corona thinks the problem will become worse.
"It's going to be exacerbated by people who are forced out of their homes and apartments and are trying to satisfy the basic requirements in their life. Education may not be at the top of the ladder," Corona said.
The Bigger Picture
At the state level, it's difficult to understand how widespread the problem may be. Adam Baker, the Department of Education's spokesperson, told ABC21 that districts have informed them of similar issues, but those numbers are not specifically tracked. Corona puts the statewide number at 15,000 students.
ABC21 has requested the numbers from all of Allen County's public school districts. Staff at Northwest Allen County Schools told us they are working to compile the numbers.
EACS spokesperson Tamyra Kelly acknowledged the problem, but did not offer numbers.
"We have been monitoring our students throughout the school year. We have made phone calls, done home visits, etc. to encourage students to participate and remain on track," Kelly explained in an email statement.
Staff at Southwest Allen County Schools did not respond to our request at press time. This article will be updated once the information is made available.
The issue highlights the challenges faced by many families.
Ashley Pino of the United Way of Allen County said requests for help have increased as the economic ravages of the pandemic become increasingly apparent. The organization has launched a program to help students stay on track in school.
"United Way is funding three organizations through our Emergency Relief Fund that are partnering with FWCS to do a credit recovery program," explained Pino. "The funding is going towards helping increase internet capacity to support online learning as well as providing food and staffing needs when necessary."
If you need assistance, you can call 211 or your local township trustee's office.
In spite of the best efforts of social service organizations, educators say the problem will have to be addressed at the state level. Corona said the district will be in touch with state education leaders about potential leniency on grades or other measures to mitigate the effects of disrupted learning. For now he said, students and families should reach out to their teachers along with friends and family for help.
"I think they need to find people in their neighborhood, in their family to help support them," Corona suggested. "This is a difficult difficult time in our in our country's history. And I know there's a lot of emotional stress that people are going through. It's a tough, tough time."