DSS: Staffers and sheriff’s departments going door-to-door to locate 3,030 unaccounted for students

DSS: Staffers and sheriff’s departments going door-to-door to locate 3,030 unaccounted for students

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The Department of Social Services is enlisting the help of law enforcement to find students that schools have been unable to contact since the beginning of the pandemic.

In June, WIS reported a South Carolina Department of Education survey was unable to contact more than 16,000 students.

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Since then, the Department of Education has been working to reconnect with them.

A memo from the Department of Social Services to the state legislature, published on Tuesday, states the Department of Education provided a list to the DSS of 3,182 to-be contacted students.

The memo states 152 of those students had an open case with the DSS (requiring regular contact with the department), which brought the unaccounted for number to 3,030.

DSS spokesperson Connelly-Anne Ragley said the list was sent to the department's county offices, where staffers and law enforcement will begin checking the last known address of the students.

"To begin an on the ground, hands-on, boots on the ground, working to find these children," she said.

She said on Wednesday, the final school districts provided the address information needed to make the investigations possible.

She said each county's investigation will look different, but there will be basic questions for the student and their family that will be universal.

"To put eyes on the child, to make sure that they are safe. Asking them, why did you lose contact with school for the previous year? And more importantly what is your plan for your 2020-2021 schooling?" she said.

She also said staffers will inquire about family needs and if they've filled out the census.

The DSS memo thanked the South Carolina Sheriff's Association for its help in mobilizing sheriff's departments to help with the investigation.

Executive Director Jarrod Bruder said time matters when ensuring the safety of children, and deputies will be working diligently to locate the students.

“I don’t want to necessarily sound the alarm and give everybody the impression that 3,000 children are being abused or in harms way necessarily, it may be, but we have to do more investigation to figure that out,” he said.

The Richland County Sheriff's Department spokesperson said the department has not yet been contacted to help with locating the students.

The Lexington County Sheriff's Department spokesperson said the department would be ready to assist if and when asked.

The DSS memo stated the department plans to publish an update on the investigations by the first week of September.

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