HOUSTON — COVID-19 is teaching hard lessons to Houston-area school districts. They lost contact with more than 11,000 students after the pandemic hit in the spring and remote learning replaced traditional classrooms.
Poor students, students of color and young students were lost most often, a KHOU 11 Investigation has found.
“You don’t know what’s going on with them, and they will fall behind and slip through the cracks,” University of Houston professor Margaret Hale said.
When school hallways emptied last school year, the Texas Education Agency required districts to track "not contactable" students, which are students and families who were not responding to requests from administrators or teachers.
KHOU 11 Investigates requested data about these students from the region’s 20 largest school districts. Alief, Fort Bend, Houston, Klein and Tomball ISDs said they were closed and did not provide data.
Some were able to provide more detailed data, which showed 79% of uncontactable students were economically disadvantaged, 64% were Hispanic, 22% were Black and 58% were elementary school students.
That’s disproportionate to the districts’ overall population, where only half of all students were economically disadvantaged, 46% were Hispanic, 17% were Black and 47% were elementary school students.
“Those data are showing that we have serious gaps,” Hale said. “The pandemic has ... in many ways kind of shined a big, brilliant light on the inequities that exist.”
The challenge now is how to close those gaps.
Districts said they have reached out to parents and families if they were not contactable. Cy-Fair ISD said in a statement it, “continues to aggressively work on locating uncontactable students. District attendance officers are continuing to reach out to parents, guardians and emergency contacts for each student. They are also utilizing the Texas Records Exchange (TREx) and conducting home visits.”
Goose Creek ISD said its teachers reached out to students and families and then tasked administrators to find them if they were not contactable.
“In addition, our principals and assistant principals participated in a process called the Random Ten Check In, which required each administrator to call 10 random parents a week to check on how things were being implemented remotely so that adjustments could be made during the spring,” it said in a statement.
As for the beginning of the school year, New Caney ISD said it’s calling all families to make initial contact.
Aldine ISD, the district with the highest rate of not contactable students at 7%, said it has implemented a program called “Aldine Cares.”
District spokesperson Sheleah Reed said teachers and staff members attempted to reach every single family in the spring and summer, and the efforts will continue into the fall.
“With our counseling team, with our family-community engagement team, working alongside our principals, we’re going to work even harder to stay connected with families,” Reed said. “Even not contacting one student is one too many.”