The past year of education has been like none other for K-12 students across the country. With a new learning format and a global pandemic interrupting students’ daily lives, educational neglect reports have increased across Colorado and Summit County.
Educational neglect is any case involving the failure of a child’s parents, legal guardians or caregivers to enroll their school-aged children or provide home schooling or needed special-education training, thus allowing them to engage in chronic truancy, according to the Colorado Department of Human Services.
Reports are made to the statewide child abuse reporting hotline at 844-264-5437 for any form of abuse or neglect, including educational neglect.
Nicole Bortot, adult and family services program manager with the Summit County Department of Human Services, said when an educational neglect report is made, it typically includes additional issues going on with a family at home. She said the county screens educational neglect reports the same as any abuse or neglect report in addition to looking for specific numbers of absences.
The county also looks for information regarding what has already been done to mitigate the issue. Bortot said throughout the pandemic, the Summit School District did a great job of contacting and meeting with families to mitigate attendance issues before human services got involved.
“They didn’t really have a set protocol, but it was really trying. I think from their perspective, it was giving families ample opportunity to have their kids attend,” Bortot said.
Amid the pandemic, Bortot said schools had a whole new territory to navigate, leading to a higher percentage of calls regarding educational neglect. She said the county received fewer abuse and neglect reports since kids were not in school — it’s typically school district employees making these kinds of reports — but a higher percentage of the calls were related to educational neglect.
“Our school district and the state and probably nationwide was in this kind of new territory of trying to understand what the expectation was for kids to attend school,” Bortot said. “And so I think there was a lot of confusion around educational neglect that maybe there wasn’t as much as before. … Typically, we have very few of these kinds of reports.”
In 2019, the state received 67,487 referrals while in 2020 it received 53,083.
While Bortot didn’t have data specific for Summit County readily available, she said the county followed trends similar to those of the state, with overall reports down but the percentage of educational neglect reports up.
Bortot added that a lot of the reports her department received this year stemmed from communication issues between families and schools. She said there was often confusion regarding COVID-19 protocols, as some students would quarantine longer than originally planned if additional relatives in the household tested positive.
Bortot also said her department didn’t receive calls relating to issues with remote learning because the district would do what it could to help if there was a specific barrier preventing a student from attending school, such as a lack of internet access.
Bortot said everyone had to be more gracious working with educational neglect this year as schools and families adjusted to a unique learning situation.
In the 2019-20 school year, Summit School District had a 26.2% chronically absent rate or 970 students of 3,699 enrolled, according to the Colorado Department of Education. In the 2018-19 school year, the district had a chronically absent rate of 30.4%.
The rate shows the number of students absent 10% or more of the days enrolled in public school for the year. The data accounts for students ages 6-17 and includes excused and unexcused absences.
The district has not yet released data on the 2020-21 school year.