Massachusetts officials are reportedly calling the police and the state’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) on parents whose children fail to show up to their school district’s “Zoom school” — classes held on live stream to protect students and teachers from the spread of coronavirus.
The Boston Globe reports that “Massachusetts school officials have reported dozens of families to state social workers for possible neglect charges because of issues related to their children’s participation in remote learning classes during the pandemic shutdown in the spring.”
In most cases, the outlet notes, “the referrals were made solely because students failed to log into class repeatedly. Most of the parents reported were mothers, and several did not have any previous involvement with social services.”
The program, which then sends a social worker from DCF to check on the student’s welfare, disproportionately affects minority households, the Globe says, where two parents are working during the day, leaving children, who are trapped at home, to attend distance learning classes on their own.
Reason Magazine’s Robby Soave points out that Zoom school truancy could have serious consequences. The Massachusetts DCF is allowed to remove children from homes where they are experiencing abuse or neglect and place them into foster care — and DCF considers truancy a form of both.
DCF has also empowered teachers to report cases of suspected abuse to the agency, even if the only evidence teachers have is information gleaned from a Zoom session.
“The department has the power to remove children from their homes and place them in foster care if agents suspect that kids are being mistreated, abused, or neglected—and DCF considers distance-learning no-shows to be possible abuse cases,” Reason reports. “DCF lists numerous circumstances in which teachers should feel obliged to call the cops, among them kids appearing tired or hungry during Zoom sessions.”
Several parents who spoke to the Boston Globe say they received repeated contact from teachers who threatened to call DCF is their children’s virtual school attendance didn’t improve. One was accused of neglect because her child missed homework; another was reported to DCF (and received a visit from the local police department) after her autistic 6-year-old son, who was naked, disrupted her daughter’s Zoom class.
A third mother was reported for “general neglect” because of “behaviors observed or disclosed during remote learning.”
Reason notes that Massachusetts DCF is “not radically different from the child services departments in the other 49 states, and similar issues are probably cropping up elsewhere” as parents struggle to balance work, work from home, and school obligations.
Some municipalities are making efforts to help, but not all assistance programs are accessible to the lower-income families who are most at risk of running afoul of social services.
In Durham, North Carolina, The Daily Wire reported, school districts are charging $140 per week for the convenience of allowing students who already attend school in the district to do their distance learning at “learning centers” — converted public schools. In other cities, charges range from $40 per student per week to more than $200.