JOPLIN, Mo. — No doubt, public education has seen plenty of changes in the past few years as a result of the pandemic.

What about student enrollment two years later?

“They could be moving to other districts. They could be opting for homeschool, they could be opting for virtual options, whether that be within the local district or within the state options,” said Sarah Mwangi, Joplin Schools Asst. Supt.

All choices used by students and parents when COVID-19 turned education upside down in 2020.

When they left the district in Joplin, school leaders say they’ve done what they can to make sure kids are still learning.

“So we do our very best to track every single student down so if we have a student who has missed multiple days, we will do phone calls, we will do house visits, we will find all the connections possible to that kid to make sure that we know where they may be and where they may be attending,” said Mwangi.

In some states, that hasn’t been easy.

A national analysis by the Associated Press and Stanford University found 21 states had 230,000 students missing during the COVID pandemic.

It means they’re not enrolled in public education.

Of course, there are other options like private school or homeschooling.

The Missouri group Families for Home Education believes those numbers have grown, but adds that’s not something that’s tracked.

“Missouri is a state that does not require registration,” said Cari Rogers, Families for Home Ed. Region 6W

The group says factors like remote learning and health restrictions encouraged families to bring students home.

“Our membership has grown a lot. And the same probably throughout the state, even in local pods you could say just in local areas. Everyone has seen an explosion in homeschooling,” said Rogers.

The impact on many Southwest Missouri school districts has been limited.

Districts like Joplin, Carl Junction, and Webb City saw small dips in enrollment during high COVID years, numbers that quickly recovered.

While in Neosho, the numbers have grown steadily for five years.

On average, those four districts have seen enrollment grow by two percent since before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Ultimately, school leaders point out that teaching and helping every child is job number one.

“We get really nervous when we don’t know where kids are, because it’s our job first and foremost to make sure we’re protecting them and that they’re safe. And so it’s critical that we know where our students are even if they’re choosing not to stay with us and going somewhere else. But then second, to make sure that they’re getting an education and that they’re getting the support that they need,” said Mwangi.