‘It’s terrifying’: Educators try to locate thousands of SC students unaccounted for since March

Around the South

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) – Educators have not been able to make contact with thousands of South Carolina students.

“We’re used to seeing them for seven to eight hours a day Monday through Friday, so of course it’s terrifying,” said Kenda Pennington, an Horry County representative for SC for ED.

A South Carolina Department of Education survey of principals finds thousands of students have gone off the grid since March 16.

“There are over 10,000 of those students that since this pandemic began that we have not heard from and not heard from their parents. They’ve been lost to us,” said Gov. Henry McMaster.

On July 8, 10,410 students statewide were unaccounted for. And as of July 21, about 60 percent of those students have been located. There are still more than 4,216 students whose whereabouts are unknown, accounting for 0.5% of the state’s student population.

“Those are usually the kids that need us the most,” said Jessica Baker, a sixth-grade teacher in Darlington County.

The number of students unaccounted for in Horry County is 198, but its rate of missing students is low compared to others, such as Dillon 3, Marion, and Darlington.

We also looked at the number of students who made no contact by grade level but saw no real trend across our area.

Jessica Baker teaches sixth-grade science honors in Darlington County. She said out of her 115 students, about 20 percent did not turn in an assignment. “A lot of them didn’t take it seriously,” said Baker.

That’s one reason school administrators said they were unable to make contact with students, along with logistical reasons such as changing contact information, a student move, or other obstacles.

“I talked to every one of my students, but sometimes it was weeks between when I heard from them. What I found out is a lot of my students are going to work with their parents because there was no other option,” said Kendra Pennington.

Despite many local districts offering mobile hot spots, there is a large scale disparity of broadband and internet access contributing to the problem.

“Some kids live so far out in the country that they cannot get the cable lines to their house,” said Baker.

South Carolina lawmakers have directed $50 million in CARES Act funding to go toward broadband and are working for more. To try to close the digital divide, Horry County schools will provide devices for every student this upcoming school year.

To locate the thousands of missing students, teachers and administrators called parents, sent emails, and even made home visits. Marlboro County Schools made contact with a lot of its students through meal delivery services.

“I believe everyone doing something more than what they’re required to do is going to be needed to fulfill the mission of reaching all kids,” said Dr. Gregory McCord, Marlboro County Schools superintendent.

The state Department of Education asked districts to provide identities of those unaccounted for to the South Carolina Department of Social Services. As of July 22nd, SCDE is still awaiting information from six districts.

The Department of social services sent News 13 this statement:

“DSS’ actions in this endeavor are more in a support role to the Department of Education. Once data is shared by the Department of Education, DSS will use all tools available to help make contact with these uncontacted students once we receive the data, including looking to see if children have an existing open case with the Agency and working with local law enforcement to perform wellness checks. DSS cases will not automatically be opened just because a child is listed on the uncontacted list supplied by their local school or school district.”

This is leading some lawmakers to push for a return to in-person learning, so teachers can have their eyes on some of the most vulnerable students.

“You don’t drop your case of abuse and neglect by 50 percent and there not be some children that are in trouble. When we go to bed each night we need to worry about these children because that’s a problem,” said Sen. Katrina Shealy, (R – Lexington).

For more from the South Carolina Department of Education, visit the state site here.

Click here to see what’s trending on CBS17.com >

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories

Click here for full list of trending stories