Public Education Department Works To Find Absent Students And Get Them Back Into School


The New Mexico Public Education Department is working closely with school leaders, agency partners and others in an all-out push to locate more than 12,000 K-12 students who have stopped attending public school amid the pandemic.

The figure is based on preliminary attendance reports that were due to the PED on the 40th day of the fall semester. Typically, attendance numbers are released only after weeks of careful vetting, but because of growing concerns about high absence rates, the department opted to release them now as preliminary, unconfirmed figures.

“While these numbers could change, as they always do, they are still large enough to cause genuine, immediate concern,” PED Secretary Ryan Stewart said. “School attendance is not an option for New Mexico children, even in these challenging times. We owe it to these students and to the future of our state to find them and help them overcome whatever obstacles are preventing them from participating in our education system.”

Preliminary data identified 21,000 students who were enrolled and engaged in learning in the spring semester but are not now. After subtracting those who had officially withdrawn — perhaps to enroll in a private school, move out of state or begin homeschooling — the number dropped to 12,073 K-11 students who are known by name. That is a 4.2 percent decline from spring enrollment numbers. 

One district failed to report its 40-day attendance, so the department applied the 4.2 percent figure to that district’s spring enrollment to estimate an additional 136 students likely missing for a new total of 12,209. 

A letter will be mailed this week to all those students at their last-known addresses.

“The idea is to invite students and families to come to a web page and answer a few questions to let us know what their current education plan is and to find out if they need additional assistance. If they’re interested in returning to school, we’ll put them with an individual academic coach to get them back on track,” said Rebekah Richards of the Graduate Alliance, the PED’s partner in ENGAGE New Mexico, a program to locate absent students and provide supports to get them back in school and moving forward this school year.

“ENGAGE New Mexico has been a resource for families that are struggling to make school work during these challenging times. For students who have disengaged from school altogether, ENGAGE New Mexico is here to help provide structure, problem solving and an additional layer of support,” Richards said.

Academic coaches work with students to answer questions, develop plans for success and connect them to  community support. Already, 558 of the 12,209 students who may be chronically absent have been referred to ENGAGE New Mexico.

The goal now is to locate and reach out to the others. The PED is beginning by asking superintendents and charter leaders to provide last-known contact information for absent students and cross-referencing the list with databases maintained by the Children, Youth and Families, Human Services and Early Childhood Education and Care departments to provide services like SNAP food benefits or child care support.

Then the list will be divided among the collaborators who will begin outreach to find families and initiate family visits when needed.

The ENGAGE New Mexico program provides critical support for implementation of New Mexico’s Attendance for Success Act, which was passed by the state Legislature in spring 2019. The act sets the expectation that students will attend in-person or remote instructional programs, as provided by their school, each day.  It also requires schools to report attendance data to the PED, and then establishes tiers of required interventions for students who are chronically absent. The final intervention is a referral to the Children, Youth and Families Department, which is responsible for investigating educational negligence.

“This is a time for compassion. We know there are many reasons children are not attending school, and we want to work with them and their families to solve problems and get them back in class — not to punish them. But ultimately, we must meet our promise to educate every New Mexico child for college or career,” Stewart said.