HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Raquel Mathis, a 10-year-old fourth grader, was so excited to start school, her feet barely touched the ground as she walked toward Bastian Elementary on Houston's southeast side Tuesday morning.
When we asked her when the last time she was in class was, "Umm, I really don't remember," she said tugging at the straps of her red backpack.
The last time Raquel was in class was in March, just before Spring Break. After that, HISD shut down in-person learning and classes went online. Raquel didn't follow there, "I don't have no computer to use at home."
Without a computer and without Wi-Fi, Raquel was one of the thousands of HISD students who just disappeared last year from online learning. At its worst, nearly one out of four HISD students was less than fully engaged. State figures show 49,514 students like Raquel either lost contact or were less than fully engaged.
It may be far less now. Thousands of the missing students have been contacted and HISD handed out nearly 100,000 tablets and computers, but thousands more are still waiting.
"Let me get my exact number. I want to make sure you have it, Ted," HISD's Interim Superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan told ABC13 at a conference, "12,205 (students) are showing in the system that they actually need a device."
Like many parents, Raquel's mother, Monique Smith, was anxious to get her daughter a device. "I am just worried about if she can get a tablet this year, so she could be doing some things, exercising her brain and staying positive."
When Smith walked to school to get Raquel a device on Tuesday, she was turned away. Smith told 13 Investigates she informed the district she needed a device during a home visit in June, but on Tuesday the district initially said paperwork indicated she already got one.
Smith was in tears as she told ABC13 it wasn't true.
Raquel didn't have time for tears as she said, "I don't want to be far behind because I don't have a laptop." Raquel is the kind of student the district is worried about.
"Very worried," Dr. Lathan said. "And will continue to be worried until we know we're back face to face and we've been able to engage with all of the students that are assigned on an HISD roster."
Maybe it's the district to blame, maybe it's some parents or maybe a little of both, but we know for sure it's not the kids' fault and they're the ones who can't learn.
Tuesday morning, the district opened some 36 distance learning centers so students without devices could sign on somewhere, but HISD didn't announce that until late last week.
Smith said she wasn't even told about the centers specifically for families like her, until Tuesday afternoon, and her school is one. We suggested they go back and ask.
Raquel was optimistic, "I was hoping I'd get me a laptop so I can go to school and be in my classes now, since it's a new year."
When they went back to the school, after our interview, someone at Bastian Elementary School had found an old laptop for Raquel to take home and use. Raquel told ABC13 on the phone, she was so excited to be in math class, learning fractions and her smile in pictures her mom sent prove it.
It means the district has just 12,204 students without devices to go.