Nearly five high schools worth of Dallas ISD students are MIA

By Keri Mitchell, Founder + executive director
Dallas, Texas | local government, education, civic issues, investigative and enterprise reporting

February 5, 2021

South Dallas

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Roughly 9,000 Dallas ISD high school students have missed multiple days of school. Some have missed a week at a time. Others are “not able to be found within the campus,” says Orlando Riddick, the district’s acting chief of school leadership.

Another 2,000 elementary and middle school students fit the same criteria during the COVID pandemic.

So during the month of February, Dallas ISD will activate teams of central office staff to call families and, when that fails, send “boots on the ground” to find students and draw them back to school.

Riddick and Shannon Trejo, Dallas ISD head of teaching and learning, presented the plan to school board members in January as part of a larger initiative to prioritize instruction and reduce strain on the system during the pandemic.

“The teachers and the campuses are working so hard to keep engagement with the kids who are consistent that we really feel like this will be a support if we can step in and help with the kids who are not engaging on a consistent basis,” Trejo told board members.

“The other piece behind it,” Riddick added, “is to find the why behind a student not coming to school. So what services and social services do we need?”

Having that information will allow the district to “reach back to connect with that family so we can make determining factors on what are some other steps we can take,” Riddick says.

Dallas ISD didn’t have specific numbers of neighborhood students who have disengaged from schools, so Dallas Free Press is filing an open records request to learn about specific concerns in our communities.

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Riddick says the district’s engagement team will be made up of central office staff involved in student initiatives, student discipline and student outreach coordinators who “typically do this work throughout the year that we’re now consolidating into one team, and then bringing in external resources if needed.”

The team won’t split up into various areas but instead focus on “volume first,” Riddick says: “Where are the most number of students that we need to approach in regards to going out to find out the ‘why’ behind a student not returning to school?”

The engagement team will ask families several questions:

  • Do you have an internet connection?
  • Do you need a hotspot?
  • Do you have technology (digital devices)?
  • Does your student know how to log in?
  • How can we support your student’s attendance, either in person or virtually?
Dallas ISD high school, middle school, elementary student attendance and engagement plan.
Dallas ISD.

“We realize that some of the student absenteeism is related to the pandemic, which has pushed many families into crisis,” Riddick says. “Some students are working to help support their families, and others face serious obstacles that make regular school attendance a challenge.”

This story was co-published by our media partner, the Dallas Weekly.

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