SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) —  Santa Clara County’s largest school district welcomed back 28,000 of its students virtually last Wednesday but students from low-income families had attendance rates as low as 67 percent. 

According to the San Jose Unified School District, attendance throughout the school district was similar to a normal school year but students attending district schools in the north-end of San Jose. 

“I think one of the things that’s generally true about this time in distance learning is that it’s highlighted a couple facts about education that we know are the case during normal times, but I think have been really brought into focus during the pandemic,” said SJUSD Public Engagement Officer Ben Spielberg.

“Families rely a lot on their schools and not just for learning but also social and emotional support, for a sense of community, for meals, for daycare … schools do a lot.”

Schools in areas of high-income recorded attendance rates as high as 99 percent — the district says the attendance disparities were “similarly concerning for homeless youth, foster youth and students with special needs. 

Spielberg tells KRON4 News the coronavirus pandemic has even broadened the opportunity gaps in education between low and high income areas. 

“Those opportunity gaps are not caused by schools, they’re caused by broader societal factors,” said Spielberg. 

“Families are really struggling right now so we really need policy makers to step up and address those root causes of the inequalities that cause opportunity gaps between low and high income students.”

Although schools in the district have been able to provide each student with computer devices, broadband access and an online classroom — SJUSD’s Superintendent t is calling for the community to provide support to families suffering the most due to the pandemic. 

The district says the community needs to come together to support families of the district’s most vulnerable students by “providing a safe and stable home environment.”

“Distance learning will not be a success if it leaves at-risk students behind,” said Superintendent Nancy Albarrán. 

“San Jose Unified is calling for a community-wide commitment to provide all families with the stability and security necessary to allow students to attend school at home.”

Despite the new virtual school year, students who qualify for free or reduced lunch will be able to  pick up free breakfast and lunches twice a week at 29 SJUSD school sites. (SJUSD meals list in Spanish and English below)

Additionally, nine SJUSD schools offer free lunches to every student who attends those specific school sites.