PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — For more than a year, leaders in the School District of Palm Beach County have spent countless hours trying to track down thousands of missing students.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Education
Student enrollment drives funding and jobs on school campuses. But more than that, school leaders want to make sure children aren't just sitting home and not going to school.
WPTV first reported on this issue in March of 2021, when more than 3,000 students in the School District of Palm Beach County were classified as "whereabouts unknown." That means they were enrolled in Palm Beach County public schools, but not attending classes in-person or virtually.
It was a problem never seen before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some of the students moved away or enrolled somewhere else, like in private school. Other families just needed help to get back on their feet.
School district officials tell WPTV that, over the last year, they've gotten in touch with about 2,500 families, and there are about 500 they haven't been able to track down and are looking for other ways to find them.
"It's very heartbreaking," said Keith Oswald, the School District of Palm Beach County's chief of equity and wellness. "I would have never imagined that we would see this kind of effect where, you know, families are just in such dire situations. But that's what we do as a community in Palm Beach County. We come together and support our kids to make sure they succeed."
COVID-19 relief money is funding a program to make phone calls, do home visits, and work with struggling families to bring kids back to school.
"We have some parents who say their kids aren't going back to school," Oswald said. "Obviously, that takes more time to work through and manage those situations and talk to families. Well, let's talk about the options."
Oswald said most of the missing students tend to be in older grade levels, but some are in elementary schools as well.
The School District of Palm Beach County is also looking into alternative forms of education for high schoolers who may now have jobs to help support their families.
"If they are at an age where they could drop out, we don't want that," Oswald said. "So let's talk about other educational opportunities to make sure we get you finished so we can graduate you. So each case can look a little different, and we're problem-solving with each of those families."