By Jessica Easthope
If students aren’t in school – where are they? Parents, elected officials and the public have no idea because New York City’s Department of Education won’t say.
“With attendance, them not knowing if she’s even there, that was even more frustrating,” said Lisa Muller Leo, a parent at St. Mel’s Catholic Academy in Flushing who sent her daughter to public school for kindergarten last year.
Lisa said she couldn’t bear another day of sending her daughter to a school that wasn’t accountable for where she was.
“Those DOE standards they don’t make sense,” she said, “they’re not protecting our children and they’re not fighting for our kids’ education.”
Some reports estimate there might be 150,000 DOE students who aren’t showing up for school and some who have yet to step foot in their classrooms this year. Lisa said when it came to her five-year-old, the DOE couldn’t tell the difference.
“October rolls around and I get an email saying your child is getting COVID tested today, they don’t know who’s in the school as far as they know they have my daughter sitting in the classroom,” said Lisa.
Earlier this month, Brooklyn Councilman Mark Treyger introduced a package of bills that would require the DOE to release detailed attendance records.
“Where are our children? There are some schools where attendance is at 40 percent. That’s an emergency, that’s a crisis,” Councilman Treyger said.
At St. Mel’s, only a parent can call a student out of school and every absence must be excused. Teachers mark attendance and then that data gets put electronically in the school’s system.
“We need to make sure we’re accountable for where they are and their wellbeing during that time so we need to make sure we keep very accurate records,” said principal Amy Barron.
And Councilman Treyger says Catholic schools have been able to communicate seamlessly with parents.
“Kudos to the Catholic schools, they’ve done a phenomenal job and the DOE has done a horrible job,” he said.
The DOE has until October 31 to disclose attendance records to the state for funding, but the public could still be in the dark. Councilman Treyger says he’s expecting his bills to be up for a vote early next month.