By Alexis Taylor
Special to the AFRO

As the effects of the coronavirus pandemic continue to unfold, enrollment data is painting a clear picture of how the pandemic has impacted grade school classrooms statewide.

In Maryland, thousands of students threw off enrollment projections for the 2020-2021 school year as fewer families chose to enroll their children in public schools during the pandemic.

Director of Strategic Planning for Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS), Paul Taylor, said that after years of continued growth, the official Sept. 30, 2020 enrollment count reported that enrollment for the district was much less than anticipated. 

“We believe that the pandemic and the measures to mitigate the pandemic impacted parents’ decision to register kids for school,” said Taylor. “We noticed a lower enrollment across all grades but significantly within kindergarten and pre-k.”

In 2019 Baltimore County Public Schools projected that the 2020-2021 school year would serve a total of 116,399 students between all grades and types of schools. After multiple waves of coronavirus, the actual headcount included a total of 111,084 students. The missing 5,315 students equaled a 4.7% drop in enrollment for BCPS.

Taylor said the decrease in registrations could be due to families choosing homeschool or private school. He added that many families with pre-k and kindergarten students are believed to have “somehow just made alternative arrangements” for their younger scholars.

In Baltimore City, the official district profile for City Schools shows there had already been a steady decline in enrollment before the pandemic wreaked havoc on the system.

In 2017 a total of 82,354 students were attending City Schools. That number fell to 80,592 in 2018. It decreased even more in 2019, when a headcount showed enrollment had fallen to 79,297 students. The 2019 headcount was the last count taken before the coronavirus began to derail the school year.

After a summer of social distancing and face masks, only 77,856 students returned to City Schools for the distance and hybrid learning offerings of the 2020-2021 school year. 

The percentage of the population requiring special education services from City Schools in the 2020-2021 school year remained unchanged from the 14.6% reported in 2019. 

A breakdown of demographic data by City Schools shows that the number of African-American students declined from 78.6% in 2019 to 75.7% in 2021. The number of Latino students increased from 11.3% in 2019 to 14.2% in 2020. The number of students needing English-language learner services increased from 7.3% to 9.6%. White student enrollment remained relatively unchanged at 7%. 

Similar to Baltimore County, D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) said in a statement to the AFRO that certain categories of students were affected more than others.  

DCPS saw decreases in enrollment this school year at the pre-k level and among adult learners,” read the statement. 

According to enrollment data released by DCPS, roughly 5,502 students enrolled in pre-k programs for the 2020-2021 school year. That was a decrease from the 6,088 who attended a three or four-year pre-k program during the 2019-2020 school year and the 5,962 who were enrolled in 2018.

According to the Audit and Verification of Student Enrollment report by DCPS, a total of about 51,037 students attended a public school in the District of Columbia for the 2019-2020 school year, compared to 49,890 this school year.

Though public school attendance in D.C. may have dropped, the audited report shows public charter school enrollment increased from roughly 43,518 students during the 2019-2020 school year to 43,942 charter school students during the 2020-2021 school year. 

Baltimore City Public Schools and D.C. Public Schools will return to in-person learning for the Fall 2021 school semester. Baltimore County Public Schools has announced that they will return to in-person learning with options available for families choosing to remain virtual.

As another school year comes to a close, school administrators and officials are carefully eyeing registrations for the 2021-2022 school year. According to My School DC, which operates the public school lottery for DCPS, 19,926 applicants have already applied to a D.C. public school.

Baltimore County Public Schools has also been encouraged by their registrations for the 2021-2022 school year.

“We’ve had more registrations throughout the 2021 school year and the number of students entering in the middle of the year are more than we normally would have,” said Taylor. 

“It appears that the return is already occurring.” 

*Maya Pottiger contributed to this article.

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Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer