Students aren’t missing. It’s the computers, stupid.

Do you need help finding those “missing students” that haven’t made it to online school yet? I can help.

A piece by ABC’s Ted Oberg follows a Houston student who hasn’t been schooled since last spring because she hasn’t had a computer or wifi access. Her name is Raquel and she represents the millions of kids nationally who have been “missing” from school district rosters, and falling behind.

These are the stories that break my heart. In a nation boastful of our economic power, we can’t get kids all they need for an education. We used to be able to put a man on the moon. Today we can’t get a Chromebook into a child’s hands.

A laptop during a pandemic. Apparently that’s too much.

Here’s the story:

The last time Raquel was in class was in March, just before Spring Break. After that, HISD shut down in-person learning and classes went online. Raquel didn’t follow there, “I don’t have no computer to use at home.”

Without a computer and without Wi-Fi, Raquel was one of the thousands of HISD students who just disappeared last year from online learning. At its worst, nearly one out of four HISD students was less than fully engaged. State figures show 49,514 students like Raquel either lost contact or were less than fully engaged.

It may be far less now. Thousands of the missing students have been contacted and HISD handed out nearly 100,000 tablets and computers, but thousands more are still waiting.


Like many parents, Raquel’s mother, Monique Smith, was anxious to get her daughter a device. “I am just worried about if she can get a tablet this year, so she could be doing some things, exercising her brain and staying positive.”

When Smith walked to school to get Raquel a device on Tuesday, she was turned away. Smith told 13 Investigates she informed the district she needed a device during a home visit in June, but on Tuesday the district initially said paperwork indicated she already got one.

Smith was in tears as she told ABC13 it wasn’t true.

Raquel didn’t have time for tears as she said, “I don’t want to be far behind because I don’t have a laptop.” Raquel is the kind of student the district is worried about.

“Very worried,” Dr. Lathan said. “And will continue to be worried until we know we’re back face to face and we’ve been able to engage with all of the students that are assigned on an HISD roster.”


Tuesday morning, the district opened some 36 distance learning centers so students without devices could sign on somewhere, but HISD didn’t announce that until late last week.

Smith said she wasn’t even told about the centers specifically for families like her, until Tuesday afternoon, and her school is one. We suggested they go back and ask.

Raquel was optimistic, “I was hoping I’d get me a laptop so I can go to school and be in my classes now, since it’s a new year.”

How many Raquel’s are there?

As my friend Dirk Tilotson points out regularly, the digital divide is actual an injustice canyon. It’s estimated that as many as 40 million Americans are without the reliable internet access that is critical to getting an education. Tens of thousands are without laptops.

These aren’t missing students, they’re victims of incompetent leadership nationally and locally.

And, guess who is most hurt? According to a McKinsey report, “only 60 percent of low-income students are regularly logging into online instruction; 90 percent of high-income students do.”

In schools that are predominantly Black and Brown, just 60 to 70 percent are logging in regularly.”

Something is wrong with us.

I don’t care what else we do as a nation, whatever else we tout as evidence of our being “great again.”

We ain’t shit until Raquel gets a laptop, WiFi, and teachers who can teach.

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