Falling behind: Nearly 40,000 students failing to hand in work in SC

South Carolina News

(WSPA) – After nine weeks of homeschooling, a sobering statistic has emerged in South Carolina: Nearly 5% of students have failed to check in during this time of e-learning.

On the surface 5% may sounds small, but with nearly 780,000 K-5 through 12th grade students in the state, that means roughly 40,000 have failed to hand in a single assingment.

But that doesn’t mean districts aren’t doing all they can to track them down.

From the isolation of distance learning comes a new type of intimacy in education as teachers refuse to let their students fall through the cracks.

“There were several students that we weren’t hearing from,” Chapman High Special Education Teacher Molly Blackwell said.

Just a few weeks after school closed, she hit the road to track down the students who hadn’t checked in.

“I saw the student walking along the road and I hollered at him. And so that was funny, I think intimidating and, of course, we laughed about it because I thought ‘wow, I bet that students didn’t realize that his teacher was going to be driving past him you know screaming his name for him, just checking in,'” Blackwell said.

An unofficial survey of 980 teachers from the Department of Education shows in the first six weeks of e-learning roughly 5% had not checked in. And in rural areas like Spartanburg District One, that number is a bit higher at 8%, which is roughly 420 students in the district.

Spartanburg District One Superintendent Dr. Ron Garner said everyone from bus drivers dropping off food to administrators and resource officers have all been working to touch base with these families.

“We have had a number of students whose parents have been laid off, furloughed, even lost jobs, and from an economic standpoint also emotional standpoint it’s been a very trying time for our families. So many folks out there have quite frankly been surviving,” Garner said.

And on top of that internet connectivity is an ongoing struggle.

Blackwell said another one of her students who hadn’t checked in was just too embarrassed.

“When I saw the student close to his house he said, ‘I’m fine. I’m fine. I’ve got internet.’ And I said, ‘Well you haven’t done any of your work.’ But I had brought the food and the paper copies to his grandmother who he lives with. She was so appreciative and she said ‘we don’t have internet,'” Blackwell said.

That’s why districts have made a huge push to set up WiFi hot spots, like several from Greenville County Schools at QuikTrip’s and Dollar General’s throughout the county.

But even in a district like Greenville that has more funding than rural ones, there’s still a little under 2% or roughly 1300 students who haven’t handed in a single assignment.

“Would we like it to be 100% of students, yes. Do 100% of students engage with their teachers anyway even when school is in regular session? The answer is no,” Tim Waller, with Greenville County Schools, said.

In late April, the State Department of Education rescinded attendance requirements so those students would not be charged with the crime of truancy.

Ryan Brown with the agency said during a pandemic doing so “when they are facing unknown and unprecedented challenges would be ill-advised.”

There’s also a focus on new efforts to help students over the summer who have checked in, but still have fallen behind.

The Department of Education told us that Superintenent Molly Spearman has asked the governor’s task force for additional funding for summer programming to help struggling learners.

In the meanwhile, Blackwell will continue working with district and her church, delivering food and school material.

“Certainly want to be safe, but knowing that school is,” Black said. “I get emotional, but the primary support that some of these kids have it makes me really hopeful that we can get back in the building sometime soon.”

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