Throughout the area kindergarten-12th grade school district enrollments have decreased mainly because of the COVID-19 pandemic causing many unknowns, whether concern about the spread of the virus to requirements on wearing masks in school.
Although the enrollment numbers are changing often, Superintendent Eric Koep said the K-12 enrollment as of Sept. 15 is 497 students with about 60 completing distance learning. For the 2019-20 school year, 481 students were enrolled at the beginning and 495 at the end.
“We expected to hover around the 490 mark, but we budgeted conservatively because of so many unknowns,” Koep said in an email.
The concerns, like health, politics, mask wearing and the seen freedom of distance learning, mean that parents chose distance learning or homeschooling for their students, according to Koep.
The number of students enrolled at the start of the year is 832, down over 200 students, according to Superintendent Kevin Wellen. Wellen said the district expected 1,045 students. The number of students in the PSEO program at the high school has slightly increased to 47, according to Wellen.
At the end of the 2019-20 school year, the district had 1,052 students enrolled. The district normally sees small shifts of around 10-15 students throughout the entire year.
The expected drop in enrollment due to the COVID-19 pandemic comes since parents chose homeschool, with the biggest concern being students having to wear masks, as Wellen said. He expects students will return when the pandemic is over.
“We could be back to a normal enrollment as soon as school is back to normal,” Wellen said.
Of the enrolled students, 124 are completing distance learning.
With different reasons for choosing in-person or distance learning, homeschooling or online academies, there are 462 students with 32 completing distance learning, according to Superintendent David Fjeldheim. The projected enrollment was 485-490 students. In the 2019-20 school year, enrollment started at 487 and ended at 481, as Fjeldheim said.
“Primary reason for distance learning is the concern of being exposed or other reasons unrelated to covid just because it is an option that is available,” Fjeldheim said in an email.
For the 22 students homeschooling or in an online academy, the main concern is face masks, as Fjeldheim said.
While enrollment was projected higher, the current though changing number of students is 970, according to Superintendent Shane Tappe. The district ended the 2019-20 school year with 1,000 students. He looks forward to more students returning as the pandemic improves.
“Everything is so uncertain,” Tappe said.
There are about 8.9% or 87 students completing distance learning.
With a smaller kindergarten class this year and a decent sized senior class last year, the district planned for a decrease, according to Superintendent Paul Brownlow. The district has 512 students currently, though the projected enrollment was 535. The 2019-20 school year ended with 540 students.
In a contingency plan, the district budgeted for 520 students and with reserves from past years, Verndale will “weather the storm” this year, as Brownlow said.
For those choosing homeschool or online academies, it was about consistency for their children and family rather than transitioning between the models of in-person, hybrid and distance learning, according to Brownlow. Families are also concerned about their health and the unknowns of the pandemic, as Brownlow said in relation to the 69 distance learners.
Though the district projected about 1,050 students, a difference of 30 from the current enrollment of 1,020, Superintendent Lee Westrum said the enrollment has remained “steady” from the end of the 2019-20 school year. There are 122 students completing distance learning.
The decrease in students comes from 22 new homeschoolers and 11 new online academy students.
“I believe that almost all of those would have been here at school if it weren’t for COVID,” Westrum said. “It sure would have been nice to have had those 30 some kids here at school.”
The school board also debated the number of kindergarten classes needed as enrollment slowly crept up over the summer. The board decided to add a fifth kindergarten class; the current enrollment of kindergarten students is 91, according to Westrum, and the expected was 84.
While the decreased enrollments were anticipated on many levels and families needed to choose the best option for their family, a decrease in enrollment means a loss in revenue for the school districts since their revenues are largely based on the number of students, roughly $10,000 per student, according to Westrum.