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FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools have launched an effort to identify and locate the “nearly 1,000” missing students that have not returned to school since the pandemic.

WS/FCS is working with Teach Tech U to identify and locate the massive amount of students who have either not enrolled for the new school year or are chronically absent.

WS/FCS says that 531 students between grades 1-12 either could not be located or dropped out of school and could not be accounted for during the first 20 days of the 2020-21 school year.

Now, the school system has the first 20 days of the 2022-23 school year to locate any student who may have dropped out during the 2021-22 school year or who have not enrolled or engaged during the first 10 days of this school year.

As of Tuesday, WS/FCS says they have identified “nearly 1,000” students that have failed to enroll or engage as of the beginning of the 2022-23 school year.

“Many of these students went ‘missing’ during the pandemic. There are a host of reasons. For example, we know families moved due to parental job loss or illness and did not make us aware. They may have dropped out and then missed information about enrollment,” said Dr. Fredricca Stokes, WS/FCS Assistant Superintendent of Student Services. “We want these students back as we know being in school and finishing school is vitally important to their future success and ultimately the success of our community.”

Recently, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction afforded Local Education Agencies the option to apply for a grant to aid in identifying and locating missing students.

WS/FCS was awarded $382,300 to contract Teach Tech U in those search efforts.

The school system released the following statement on the role Teach Tech U will play in bringing the missing students back to school:

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“Teach Tech U will provide services to strategically contact, recover, and support those students previously enrolled. Teach Tech U will use a tiered approach to locate, partner with, and then engage these students and their families to ensure a complete return to the school environment and ensure these students are achieving at their highest capability.”

On a national scale, the Bellwether Education Partners estimated that 3 million students went missing from the education system around the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

WS/FCS urges anyone in the community who may know of an unenrolled or disengaged student that there are ways for the student and their family to reenroll into the school system and get back on the right track.