SANTA FE — The New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) and its partners have accounted for nearly half of the students who were enrolled in public schools last spring but not this fall and were therefore feared to be outside the educational system.
As of Wednesday, 6,270 students remained unaccounted for, down from 12,186 in mid-November. Most of those now accounted-for are enrolled in private or Bureau of Indian Affairs schools, have moved out of state, or are being home-schooled.
“I’m grateful that the Public Education Department and our partners have come so far in such a short time determining that nearly 6,000 New Mexico school children are safe and receiving an education,” PED Secretary Ryan Stewart said. “However, even one unaccounted for student is too many, so this work simply moves into the next phase. We won’t rest until that number is zero.”
The next phase, to begin next week, involves direct outreach to the families of students who remain unaccounted for. Outreach tactics may include phone calls, emails and, in some cases, COVID-safe home visits.
Partners in the outreach effort include the Early Childhood Education and Care Department; the Indian Affairs Department; the Office of African American Affairs; and the Children, Youth and Families Department. The Graduation Alliance, PED’s partner in re-engaging with students, will also help with outreach.
When school resumed in August, individual school districts began trying to locate students who were enrolled in the spring but didn’t return in the fall.
Districts are required to report enrollment and attendance data to PED at regular intervals, beginning in late October. That data is usually not released until it is carefully verified — a weeks-long process — but because of growing public concern about disengaged students amid remote and hybrid learning models, the department broke protocol in November by announcing the unverified data.
Since then, PED and its sister agencies have been working with the Graduation Alliance to locate students on the list to inquire about the families’ overall well-being and verify that the students are safe and engaged in learning.
“This collaborative effort is about more than simply locating New Mexican students. It’s not enough for us to know where the children are, we also want to be sure they’re engaged in learning – that they are enrolled in and have access to a quality school experience,” Deputy Secretary Gwendolyn Perea Warniment said.
The first step at PED was to identify the 14 largest school districts where the vast majority of the unaccounted-for students were previously enrolled. The PED sent each district a list of students, with grade level and identification number, and asked them to cross-check it with their own data. That cross-check turned up 3,378 students who really were accounted for.
The PED also cross checked the original list of 12,186 against New Mexico’s homeschool database and discovered another 1,741 students whose parents had completed the forms to homeschool them. Those names were also removed.
Meanwhile, the second deadline for districts and charters to report attendance to PED passed just before winter break, and in preparing that report, districts discovered another 797 previously “missing” students had reappeared on school rolls.
“We found them right where they were supposed to be — in school — in either the first or second reporting period,” Deputy Secretary Katarina Sandoval said.
In addition, 899 families have responded to a letter sent to the last-known address for all 12,186 unaccounted-for students. Only 32 of those were still residing in New Mexico but no longer receiving educational services. They were referred to ENGAGE NM, PED’s partnership with the Graduation Alliance, which offers coaching, enrollment assistance or other aid to disengaged students.
Those 899 responses include an unknown number of students who had already been removed from the original list because they showed up in the homeschooling database or on the lists received from the 14 districts.