09/10/2020 Reporting neglect based on truancy during virtual learning: Our view in the Boston Globe

The Boston Globe recently published an article about state social workers responding to 51A reports for child abuse and neglect concerning student’s with increased absenteeism and truancy during remote learning. In a letter to the editor, HopeWell CEO Shaheer Mustafa responded:

The pandemic continues to expose fault lines over race and class that were largely hidden from public view just six months ago. There are many instances when it makes sense for school officials to file a 51A report alleging child abuse or neglect if they have students who aren’t gaining access to education because of circumstances at home. But frivolous pandemic-related reports of abuse expose the ways in which schools fall prey to implicit bias.

Now, more than ever, it’s important to avoid jumping to conclusions. When thinking about how to engage a student who isn’t checking in online, consider the conditions that might be getting in the way. Lack of Wi-Fi or smartphones? A broken computer? One device that has to be shared by an entire family? Parents with jobs that require them to be outside of the home, thereby leaving no adult present to coax a reluctant teenager to log into Google Classroom?

It has been challenging for co-workers to remain connected virtually. No one should be surprised that many students are finding it hard to stay connected with their schools.

If we learn nothing else from this pandemic, let it be that we gain more through empathy and making connections than we do by judging children and families who may be struggling.