Flint, MI—Flint Community Schools is sending staff members door to door to locate students who have not yet attended online classes and whom the district has been unable to reach.

Virtual classes began August 5 and approximately 1,300 students are unaccounted for, which is less than half the total student population, Assistant Superintendent Kevelin Jones said.

Flint families are “mobile” and though the district has sent out mailings and robocalls to inform students about classes, many of the addresses and phone numbers on file are wrong, Jones said. 

“Our inner-city kids have a lot more issues than most people know. [They have] a lot more financial burden just to be able to live and eat. Their cell phones get cut off because they don’t have the funds and the money to support that,” he said.

COVID-19 and virtual learning have made education less accessible for struggling families and traditional communication methods have been ineffective, Jones said.

“We found out that we have a lot of empty homes that were not empty before this pandemic. And the first thing on their mind is not getting into school. The first thing on their mind is to feed their family and to make sure they have a roof over their head,” he said.

To connect with hard-to-reach students, Multitiered Systems of Support Supervisor Todd Barlass, who oversees the district’s wellness programs, has spearheaded the door-to-door efforts. Wellness teams consisting of social workers, behavioral specialists, nurses and paraprofessionals are bussed out to neighborhoods. They knock on doors,  following mapped-out routes based on students whom the district needs to contact.

Once a student is found, the staff work to identify their needs and provide them with necessary resources whether it be food, water, wi-fi hotspots or devices for online learning, Barlass said.

“Each family that we make contact with, because we haven’t been able to make contact with them through traditional forms, it’s very important that we update our information…we’re trying to get multiple [contact] avenues to remain connected with that family after that visit,” Barlass said.

The district has gone above and beyond to provide for the whole child and the whole community, Jones said. “We have people out there who are 60-years-old…willing to walk dangerous streets to go out and get our [students] so that they can be educated. We have to find them and do what’s best for them at this point because we’ve done all the regular things that either a suburbia school or regular school would do. We have to take it a step further.”

FCS’ on-the-ground efforts to make contact with students may determine how much funding they receive under a new proposed bill.

On Monday, the Michigan House approved a return-to-school bill that changes how school funding will be determined for the 2020-2021 school year due to COVID-19. It currently awaits Governor Whitmer’s signature.

The legislation would alter the way funding is connected to in-person attendance. At present, schools must have 75% daily attendance to receive their full amount of state funds. If the bill passes, schools will have to ensure two-way interactions occur between 75% of students and their teachers.

The bill would also change the funding formula. Currently, school funding is a blended formula based on attendance: 90% weighted for fall attendance and 10% weighted for the prior spring. The bill would change the blend to 75% weighted for the prior spring and 25% weighted for this fall.

Other highlights of the bill include:

  • The minimum of 180 days and 1,098 hours of instruction requirement would be waived.
  • $583 million would be dedicated to schools and educators to ease hardships caused by the pandemic.
  • $50 million would be reserved for hazard pay for teachers
  • Districts receiving state aid will have to administer one benchmark assessment for grades K-8 within the first nine weeks of the school year and again on the last day of school.

Jones said he hopes the legislature and state considered how hard it is for students. “I’m hoping they realize that this pandemic is getting worse for our children and school districts than they know.”

Door-to-door efforts have raised attendance rates, but the district has much more work to do, Jones said. “A lot of us are going through our homes with air on, going through our homes with food in it, and [these kids] are not. And so, these are the children that we are privileged to serve and to educate. We’re out there on the ground trying to find them.”

Carmen Nesbitt is a journalist with diverse experience in news reporting and feature writing. She wrote for Hour Detroit and SEEN Magazine before joining the Flint Beat news team as an education and public...