13 Investigates: Texas schools to track 'uncontactable' students

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- School attendance requirements have been waived in Texas, but the state is still asking districts to keep track of students they have not heard from since COVID-19 prompted online learning.

"School district leadership, including the superintendent, should be aware of the absolute number and percentage of students that are considered uncontactable," according to guidance for schools from the Texas Education Agency.

Last week, 13 Investigates reached out to more than a dozen Houston-area school districts to track their process, but found it may be a while before we find out how many students aren't showing up for virtual school.

The Texas Attorney General is allowing districts to hold off on responding to our public records requests for information during the pandemic.

Only two districts have provided specific numbers so far.

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Houston Independent School District's most recent information for its sixth week of remote learning shows only 42 percent of students accessed instruction through its online portal. The district says that's because some students are "also accessing the curriculum and engaging with teachers through HISD's HUB, Microsoft Teams, Google and other ... learning platforms."

Some students are also requesting paper-based curriculum. Houston ISD distributed 38,211 paper packets and continues to get those requests. In mid-April, about 20 percent of students received paper-based learning.

At Spring ISD, 84 percent of students district-wide are using its online learning system. Schools at the elementary level have among the lowest digital engagement with an average of 75 percent of students using the online learning system. The district said that's because "some elementary families (are) picking up paper packets for their students."

As of Thursday, May 7, Spring ISD had distributed about 41,000 paper packets.

The district said it has been able to contact 95 percent of students at least once since schools closed their physical locations. That leaves five percent of students unaccounted for.

As districts start planning for the next school year, the TEA said Tuesday it will continue providing guidance on how best to collect data on student engagement in remote learning.

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