LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- During the pandemic shutdown, an attendance crisis caused an estimated 3 million children across the U.S. to go missing from school rosters.
Amid a return to in-person learning, a local elementary school is experiencing that problem in the Las Vegas Valley, and administrators are going door to door to track down students who they say have vanished.
"There are some mysteries where we don't really know where they are," said Principal Sarah Popek of Myrtle Tate Elementary School, a title I school for Clark County School District.
Back in January, administrators with North Las Vegas-based Tate Elementary estimated they would fill their little blue desk chairs with as many as 730 students this school year. That estimate turned out to be wrong.
"Our projection on count day came in at 697, so we are about 33 students below projection for this school year," said Popek.
Ultimately, 33 students were not enrolled at the start of the school year, as they thought.
"I think it's happening more now than it did in the past," said Popek.
She said at her school alone, they have a list about 15 names long of children who remain completely unaccounted for.
"We've called all the working numbers, all the emergency contacts, gone to their houses, even asked neighbors, to say, 'Hey, have you heard where they went?' and we haven't been able to figure that out," said Popek.
She said she worries about the kids.
"When we knock on their door and there's no one there, I wonder, 'Are they okay?' And that's the tough part of my job.'"
She also said she has to worry about the school budget.
"When it comes down to it, 33 students is a teacher," said Popek. "So I need to balance my strategic budget in order to make up for that."
Where are the missing students? She chalks it up to economic turmoil.
"I think the pandemic made job stability for a lot of families, and especially, our Hispanic community got very hit hard by the pandemic," said Popek. Tate Elementary is roughly 65% Hispanic.
"We do know, some of them, during the economic turmoil, moved back to Mexico to live with families there," said Popek.
Last school year, during distance learning, they had no such problem.
"With the eviction moratorium, families were not being evicted. And they were able to stay in their homes," said Popek. "Even if they did move, they moved with a Chromebook, and so they could log in anywhere in the valley."
If they moved to another school in CCSD, administrators would have been able to see that in a program the district uses called Infinite Campus. Instead, question marks loom over their names.
"I love what I do, but it can also be frustrating, because I feel like I can never do enough," said Popek.
A request for information regarding unaccounted for students went unanswered by CCSD on Tuesday.