What is educational neglect anyway?

August 21, 2020

It’s never been easy to pin down a definition for educational neglect. Yet here in the era of social distancing, remote learning, hybrid schedules, virtual classrooms and COVID-19, parents, educators and child welfare professionals have more questions than ever before. It is critical for educators to do their best in keeping an eye out for signs of educational neglect in students and make a report to the Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline - 844-CO-4-Kids - when they have a concern.

So, is educational neglect one or two days of skipping online classes? What about showing up to a virtual classroom but skipping days when in-person learning is planned? The answer depends, said Samantha Garrett, an Education Specialist and Licensed Clinical Social Worker with the Colorado Department of Human Services.

It is important to remember that the pandemic has caused families and educators to adjust to a life we have not ever known and that lack of engagement with education may not always mean that a child is experiencing child abuse or neglect. However, a lack of engagement with education can be indicative of other issues that may be taking place in the home. Teachers genuinely care about their students and have made it a practice to trust their gut and report their concerns when they sense something is not right with a student. Teaching during the pandemic should not change this.

Since remote learning has replaced in-person schooling in many areas of Colorado, identifying and addressing educational neglect in a student continues to be particularly challenging, according to Samantha. Although defining educational neglect is “complicated,” and remote learning has changed the school environment, your instincts are still the same, acknowledges Samantha. 

Educational neglect involves the failure of a parent or caregiver to enroll a child of mandatory school age in school or provide appropriate homeschooling or needed special education training, thus allowing the child or youth to engage in chronic truancy.

Signs of educational neglect may include:

  • habitual absenteeism from school (an average of five days a month, for example) and no attempt from the parent or guardian to change this pattern
  • failing to homeschool, register or to enroll a school-age child, causing the child to miss at least one month of school without valid reasons
  • refusing to allow or failing to obtain recommended remedial education services
  • not obtaining or following  through with treatment for a child’s diagnosed learning disorder or other special education need without reasonable cause
  • the ongoing failure to provide a child with the resources and environment they need to learn.

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A student’s extended absence from school may not be the result of neglect, but rather of a student’s family coping with a COVID-19 health crisis or other unintended consequences from the pandemic, such as making big changes in everyday routines due to financial hardships. It’s vital that teachers and school staff make an effort to distinguish between those situations and genuine educational neglect.” - Samantha Garrett

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The additional clarity that many school districts have provided with their updated remote learning attendance policies in the 2020-21 school year can help families and educators better understand expectations for remote learning during the pandemic. 

During the early stages of the pandemic, schools had no choice but to develop and attempt to enforce policies on the fly, naturally creating confusion as educators and parents worked to adjust to the new norm. According to Samantha, many school officials spent the summer working around the clock preparing thoughtful and comprehensive truancy policies for remote and hybrid learning, in hopes of providing more clarity for teachers and families.

In a remote learning environment, without an opportunity to assess and interact with students face-to-face, the onus is on teachers and others in the educational community to be extra observant for signs of educational neglect — and timely in mobilizing to address it. 

Remember to listen to your instincts. Reporting your concerns to the Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline is about getting a family connected to the help that they need. In nearly 70% of child welfare cases, counties can provide services and kids can remain safely at home with their parents. Some of these services may include assistance applying for benefits or classes to help parents manage stress.

If you're concerned about possible child abuse and neglect, call 844-CO-4-Kids. Dial 9-1-1 if there is an immediate threat. As mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect, teachers and school staff are required by law to report their concerns.

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Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline
Available 24 hours a day, every day. Don't hesitate to call and get help. 
Anyone witnessing a child in a life-threatening situation should call 911 immediately.