The Ewells have a reputation for coming to school on the first day to get their names on the record and then not coming any more that school year.
The Ewells are a family that has lived in poverty for many generations in Maycomb, and prefers to stay that way. The reader is introduced to them for the first time when Scout starts first grade and meets Burris Ewell.
When Miss Caroline asks Burris his name when she realizes he has lice. She tells him she has a Ewell on the roll, but no first name. This is an indication of the lackadaisical approach to public schooling the Ewell family has. Not only do they send the boy to school with lice, they do not even send him with his first name.
When Burris told her he has done his time for the school year, she is really confused. Then she gets a lesson in the Ewells.
Whole school's full of 'em. They come first day every year and then leave. The truant lady gets 'em here 'cause she threatens 'em with the sheriff, but she's give up tryin' to hold 'em. (ch 2)
Scout is also confused. She has a difficult time at school as it is, and she is having some trouble understanding the Ewell’s situation. Atticus explains to her that the law treats different people differently. The Ewells are “the disgrace of Maycomb for three generations” (ch 3). Mr. Ewell continues to act that way, and his children suffer for it.
The Ewells are introduced in chapter 1, but this is the first time we really learn about them. They will be important later because Mayella Ewell accuses Tom Robinson of rape, and it sets off a chain of events that weaves through much of the book.
The school situation is also one of the first introductions of the idea of law, and the law not applying equally to everyone. Scout begins to realize that the world is not as black and white as she thought.