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Teachers warn that some students have ‘checked out’ of school, and it will be hard to get them back

Toronto-area high school teacher Kirby Mitchell has long focused his attention on students who’ve been labelled as having behavioural issues, who are often racialized, marginalized and teetering on the edge of dropping out of school completely. He works to identify, support and re-engage them in the school system, and amid COVID-19, he’s grown increasingly concerned about them. “Students that I’m used to seeing wandering the halls, they’re no longer there,” said Mitchell. “Students I’m used to seeing acting out in class, they’re no longer there.” Enrolment figures have fluctuated this school year, with students who were expected to attend missing from in-person as well as virtual classes. It’s not clear exactly how many are unaccounted for, but according to public school boards and divisions across the country, there may be a host of reasons for why they haven’t shown up: from kindergarten students who deferred starting to families who moved regions or into private schools to kids now being home-schooled. Still, there’s growing concern about schools’ ability to locate students absent from attendance rolls — and the need to quickly get them back into class. With so much focus on school safety measures, students who have dropped off the grid haven’t been a priority, says Mitchell, and that can lead some to feel they’re not wanted by the school community and make it easier for them to withdraw. Teachers say the pandemic has put major stress on students’ ability to learn and a number of them have simply checked out altogether.(Evan Mitsui/CBC) He says he can relate to that instinct based on his own school experience as a student. “I came to school mainly for the sports and to see my friends,” he said. “Indirectly, I became part of a school and a learning environment, but if I didn’t have those reasons to come and that space to be in … No one’s checking for me. I had no reason to go there. It’s easy to leave.” WATCH | Mitchell explains why it’s easier to lose track of students in the pandemic: Difficult to track down Middle school teacher Jay Williams began seeing the attendance list at his Toronto school dwindle right from the start of September. He was assigned 29 students on paper but only 22 attended class. In October, he lost four more students — kids who he knew benefited from in-person learning — when they switched to virtual school and lost their connection to him, as well as to their home-school community. It can be difficult to keep track of where students are going, he said. “Are parents simply pulling their kids and doing some home schooling? Are pods being set up? … Have they switched boards?” Middle school teacher Jay Williams has seen fewer students attend class as the pandemic continues and says it can be difficult to track down where they’ve gone.(Sue Reid/CBC) As the school year continues, he’s hearing from students who feel increasingly “checked out mentally, physically, emotionally” and recognizes how difficult it’s been for them to stay focused on learning amid the revolving door of coming into school and being sent home to quarantine because of COVID-19. Like many educators, he’s been calling and emailing parents and families, as well as being open to chatting with students via social media, in hopes of maintaining connections and “making sure that every avenue has been exhausted before [they] simply just stop coming.” Parents and caregivers are in survival mode, Williams said, “dealing with this the best that they can right now, so the priority might not be to respond [to school officials].” WATCH | Schools need a plan to re-integrate students, says Williams: ‘These could be rich or poor kids alike’…

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