In Atlanta, Kids Are Being Kept Out of School Due to Paperwork

The AP delves into the frustrating issue
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 1, 2024 5:10 PM CST
Inside the Struggle Over Kids Being Kept Out of School Due to Paperwork
Tameka's 8-year-old daughter ties her shoe before running out to play in Atlanta on Dec. 5, 2023. The little girl should be in second grade but has never attended school.   (AP Photo/Bianca V?zquez Toness)

It's unclear to Tameka how—or even when—her children became unenrolled from Atlanta Public Schools, the AP reports. But it was traumatic when, in fall 2021, they figured out it had happened. After more than a year of some form of pandemic online learning, students were all required to come back to school in person. Tameka was deeply afraid of COVID-19 and skeptical the schools could keep her kids safe from what she called "the corona." One morning, in a test run, she sent two kids to school. Her oldest daughter, then in seventh grade, and her second youngest, a boy entering first grade, boarded their respective buses. She had yet to register the youngest girl, who was entering kindergarten. And her older son, a boy with Down syndrome, stayed home because she wasn't sure he could consistently wear masks.

After a few hours, the elementary school called: Come pick up your son, they told her. He was no longer enrolled, they said. Around lunchtime, the middle school called: Come get your daughter, they told her. She doesn't have a class schedule. Tameka's children—all four of them—have been home ever since. Thousands of students went missing from American classrooms during the pandemic. For some who have tried to return, a serious problem has presented itself. A corrosive combination of onerous re-enrollment requirements, arcane paperwork, and the everyday obstacles of poverty—a nonworking phone, a missing backpack, the loss of a car—is in many cases preventing those children from going back. In Atlanta, where Tameka lives, parents must present at least eight documents to enroll their children—twice as many as parents in New York City or Los Angeles.

One of the documents—a complicated certificate evaluating a child's dental health, vision, hearing, and nutrition—is required by the state. Most of the others are Atlanta's doing, including students' Social Security cards and an affidavit declaring residency that has to be notarized. The district asks for proof of residency for existing students every year at some schools, and also before beginning sixth and ninth grades, to prevent students from attending schools outside of their neighborhoods or communities. The policy also allows the district to request proof the student of residence after an extended absence or many tardy arrivals. Without that proof, families say their children have been unenrolled. (Read much more at the AP, including how gentrification plays a role, stories of other families in similar situations, and the rest of Tameka's journey—including a threat of being punished for "educational neglect.")

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