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In Dallas ISD, Thousands Of Students Don't Show Up For First Day Of School

Christina Ulsh
More than 143,000 students attended the first day of school in Dallas ISD -- the highest first-day total since 2000. Many districts, including Dallas, see their attendance numbers fluctuate the first few weeks before leveling out.

School started for most North Texas kids on Monday. But not everyone was there on the first day or the second or even the third. Getting every single student to show up is tough. In many districts, students keep trickling in days and even weeks later. A Dallas ISD official explains what keeps some kids away.

This year, 143,000 students attended Dallas schools on Monday – the highest first-day total in 14 years. Still, more than 17,000 kids didn’t make it to class. Usually, the enrollment climbs throughout the first week.

“We never get everybody in on the first day of school,” Riley said. “We have a big jump on the second day of school, and then we have smaller jumps through early September.”

That’s Andre Riley, spokesman for the Dallas school district. He said there are several reasons why students don’t show up for class.

“Some of it is related to something as basic as immunizations – a student might not have obtained them in time so they can’t come to school.”

Some students come back late from vacation. Others haven’t completed the school registration process. And other kids, Riley said, have problems at home that prevent them from going to school.

"It’s a mixed bag. Every student is different. Every family’s different," Riley said. "And for those who aren’t attending on the first day, those reasons vary."

In Fort Worth, student enrollment also fluctuates for the first few weeks. More than 80,000 kids attended school the first day. That’s more than the first day last year. In Dallas, the district sends letters home, makes phone calls, posts messages on social media and relies on reporters to get the message out, Riley said. Principals play a role, too, in getting more than 161,000 kids to school.

"They get out in their individual communities, attend community events and perform other outreach to make families aware of the first day of school and to help remove barriers that would keep a student from attending on the first day of school," Riley said.

On Tuesday, an additional 8,000 kids arrived to class in the Dallas school district. They won’t get perfect attendance, but the district will be closer to filling every desk.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.