Report estimates as many as 25% of marginalized Minnesota students missing from school since March

As schools across the country continue to remain closed, too many students are paying the price. From academic impacts to social-emotional and mental health impacts, school closures have had grave consequences on students. In Minnesota, many students have not stepped foot in a classroom since March.

But they aren’t just missing from the classroom, they are likely missing from school altogether, according to a report released by the Washington-based nonprofit Bellwether Education Partners.

Using news reports and state and local survey data sources, researchers Hailly T.N. Korman, Bonnie O’Keefe and Matt Repka predict as many as 52,250 educationally marginalized students in Minnesota have possibly not attended school since closures began in March. That is more than the seating capacity of Target Field (39,504) and even the TCF Bank Stadium (50,805). In the U.S., estimates of missing marginalized students are between 1 to 3 million.

The report’s authors identify five groups of public school students most at risk from school closures: children in foster care, students experiencing homelessness, students with disabilities, English language learners, and migrant students. (While recognized as likely experiencing higher levels of educational disruptions from school closures, students of color and low-income students were not included because the researchers decided “these groups were too large and overlapped too much with the other groups of interest to add meaningful estimates.”)

Korman, O’Keefe and Repka then calculated a likely percentage of students in the identified groups not in school based on media reports and available data. The identified students included those who haven’t logged online but would if they had the opportunity to do so and those “who have made a transition away from school engagement in ways that could be permanent.”

For Minnesota, the number of marginalized students is estimated to be around 209,000. If one percent of those students lost access to education from schools shutting down, that would impact 2,090 students. If 10 percent lost access, around 20,900 students. And if 25 percent, over 52,000 students in those above-mentioned groups possibly haven’t received formal education — virtual or in-person — in seven months.

Stories from across the country illustrate this problem.

In Los Angeles, 15%-20% of English learners, students in foster care, students with disabilities, and homeless students didn’t access any of the district’s online educational materials from March through May.

In Washington, D.C., back-to-school family surveys found that 60% of students lacked the devices and 27% lacked the high-speed internet access needed to successfully participate in virtual school.

In Miami-Dade County, 16,000 fewer students enrolled this fall compared with last year.

So, why aren’t students attending school? We know part of the problem is the digital divide, but it goes beyond that for high-risk students, the Bellwether researchers continue.

Many English learners and students with disabilities have no good options to receive the educational accommodations and services to which they are legally entitled, making learning inaccessible.

Children in foster care and children experiencing homelessness encountered barriers to education before the pandemic, and this year, instability, confusion, and poor communication are rampant for them.

Some young people have transitioned to work, both formal and informal, while others are providing full-time primary care and learning support for other children, like younger siblings, in their homes.

The pandemic has also isolated children and youth experiencing abuse, neglect, or acute mental health needs, cutting them off from teachers and other school staff trained to spot warning signs.

Data continue to show that schools aren’t the super-spreaders they were feared to be. Given the little evidence that school closures have any measurable public health benefit related to the spread of COVID are closures really worth the significant consequences they are having on students? Effects that will likely be compounded for years to come?

There is not enough public recognition of the serious challenges facing America’s most vulnerable students at this moment or of the consequences if millions continue to be disconnected from schools and other support systems indefinitely.