Where are they? 700 Hillsborough County students still unaccounted for months into school year

8 On Your Side

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — There are about 700 students in Hillsborough County who, months into the school year, have not shown up for class and are still unaccounted for. So where are they and who are they? 8 On Your Side is looking into the mystery.

Coronavirus has caused classroom disruptions nationwide. A few weeks after the start of school, on Sept. 14, 8 On Your Side spoke with Superintendent Addison Davis from Hillsborough County Public Schools, one of the largest districts in the country.

“We’re doing a really nice job, our school staff, being able to reach out and looking at their class rosters to connect with every one of our students to figure out if they’re going to come back or where they have gone,” Superintendent Davis said at the time.

8 On Your Side learned that, initially, there were approximately 7,000 students unaccounted for in Hillsborough County. It’s a significant enrollment drop compared to non-coronavirus years.

We reached out to smaller Tampa Bay area school districts to ask about their enrollment drop in the age of COVID-19. As of Monday afternoon, we’ve heard back from two additional districts.

Pinellas County said the difference between their projected and actual enrollment was 991 while Pasco County said their difference was 1,429.

Since August, hundreds of social workers have tracked down the students in Hillsborough County, making phone calls and in-person visits. According to the district, 6,300 have been located but 700 are still unaccounted for and missing.

8 On Your Side wants to know how many have been lost the shuffle because of the pandemic.

On Monday morning, we asked the Hillsborough school district to provide a detailed breakdown of the number of missing kids back in class versus those being taught at home and those who have since moved away. A spokeswoman told us they’ll be able to answer more of our questions after Thanksgiving break next week.

Here’s the full statement from the school district:

At the beginning of this semester, like many other school districts in the nation, Hillsborough County Public Schools experienced a drop in enrollment which can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally, our district was down approximately 7,000 students from the same time the year before.

Our 235 school social workers, along with school-based leaders, began the quest to find each student who did not re-enroll. Their efforts included phone calls as well as home-visits to track down the location of each student. They also worked with community-based partners who may have had students on their caseload to cross reference.

The determination of our school social workers is nothing short of heroic, as they have been able to track down all but approximately 700 students out of 7,000. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, families’ living situations have changed, and many have moved from the area. Other families have chosen different learning platforms without notifying our district. Our social workers deserve recognition for their tireless efforts, and we stand together as a district to collectively thank them for their hard work and dedication.”

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