Coronavirus: Clark, Champaign school enrollment down by nearly 2,000 students during pandemic

INITIAL CUTLINE: With masks and desks spaced apart, students at Simon Kenton Elementary work on classwork Friday, Feb. 19, 2021.

Credit: Bill Lackey

caption arrowCaption
With masks and desks spaced apart, students at Simon Kenton Elementary work on classwork Friday, Feb. 19, 2021.Schools in Clark and Champaign Counties are expected to receive about $24 million from the COVID-19 relief bill passed in December. Springfield City Schools will received about $13 million. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Student enrollment at 12 out of 14 public and charter schools in Clark and Champaign Counties decreased by a total of nearly 2,000 students from fall 2019 to fall 2020, according to the Ohio Department of Education.

State data comparing October 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic, to October 2020 shows a decrease in many school districts. The data represents a headcount of students in attendance during the first full week of classes in October, according to ODE.

Overall enrollment in Clark and Champaign County schools declined by 1,861 students going from 26,162 students in 2019 to 24,301 students in 2020.

All 12 Clark and Champaign County public school districts saw a decline in enrollment, ranging from 12 students to 693 students.

Both charter schools in Clark County showed an increase between 2019 and 2020.

School districts in both Clark and Champaign counties seemed to follow the statewide trend.

Ohio public school enrollment decreased by 53,000 students, or 3%, between fall 2019 and fall 2020, according to ODE. More than 90% of Ohio’s districts experienced decreases in enrollment ranging from less than 1% to more than 15%.

PreK-12 grade school enrollment had not decreased by more than 0.3%-0.4% in any of the previous three years, ODE officials said.

Springfield City Schools experienced the highest decrease in enrollment between 2019 and 2020 at 693 students. The districts enrollment dropped from 7,713 to 7,020, according to ODE.

Superintendent Bob Hill said he feels enrollment decreased due to the pandemic, fear and transient population.

caption arrowCaption
With masks and desks spaced apart, students at Simon Kenton Elementary work on classwork Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Credit: Bill Lackey

With masks and desks spaced apart, students at Simon Kenton Elementary work on classwork Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Credit: Bill Lackey

caption arrowCaption
With masks and desks spaced apart, students at Simon Kenton Elementary work on classwork Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Enrollment also declined after 214 students switched to homeschooling and 135 students switched to a fully online charter school or private school, Hill said.

“Legislation and the biennial budget are currently pending, making it impossible to determine the financial effect of reduced student enrollment at this time,” he said.

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Graham Local Schools in Champaign County had the second highest decrease in the two-county area losing almost as many students as Springfield.

The district saw a decline from 1,735 students to 1,067 – a difference of 668 students.

“We have been focused on keeping students on in-person learning’’ and handling COVID related issues, said Superintendent Brad Silvus. “We have not seen a decrease of over 600 students in the past few years.”

Silvus expressed some uncertainty about the state’s numbers and plans to seek clarification from ODE.

“I do not believe we have experienced a significant change in enrollment from 19 to 20 or 21. There is always a little fluctuation, but nothing like the nearly 700 you quoted. That would drastically impact our funding and that has not happened,” Silvus said.

Clark-Shawnee Local Schools had the second highest number of losses in Clark County with a decline of 105 students. The district went from 1,760 students to 1,655 students.

“With the pandemic, we have had a few families move to homeschooling and we look for some of those students to return to our district in the fall,” said Superintendent Brian Kuhn. “That being said, there are some families within our district who have been homeschooling their child even before the pandemic.”

The decline is also in part due to reductions in elementary level open-enrollment, Kuhn said.

“Over the past two school years, Clark-Shawnee Local has made proactive reductions to the number of open enrolled students at the elementary level to ensure that the number of teachers, students and classrooms are supported by our building plan,” he said.

Kuhn said they will offer open enrollment to students this coming school year based on the class sizes and course availability, which may help with an increase in enrollment.

ODE officials said statewide enrollment decreases are more focused in preschool and kindergarten as public preschool decreased by 15,000 students, or 27%, and kindergarten decreased by 10,000 students, or 8%. ODE said the decreases represent almost half of the total decrease in enrollment across all grades.

“This reverses a two-year trend whereby public preschool and kindergarten grew by an average of 5% (or roughly 2,000 more students) and 2% (or roughly 700 more students), respectively,” ODE stated.

ODE officials added that preschool and kindergarten enrollment decreases are “especially pronounced” in districts that began the school year with full remote learning (33.5% and 16.2%, respectively) compared to in-person, five-days a week and hybrid learning.

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One Champaign County school district had the lowest decrease in enrollment at only 12 students.

Superintendent Vickie Hoffman at Triad Local Schools credits their low decline to respecting family decisions, allowing families “defined windows” to make changes as they felt more comfortable and clearly and regularly communicating with families.

“I think this has helped families trust us in all that we were doing to keep everyone safe that attended face-to-face and also helped families to be less frustrated since they knew the plan and expectations,” she said.

Hoffman said she also credits the staff for enrollment numbers.

“They have worked very hard to keep students on track no matter what instructional method they decided on. Staff members have also stepped up and communicated extra with families when students were struggling,” she said. " As a district, we have also worked very hard to ensure that families knew that protecting our students and staff from the pandemic has been a top priority.”

The district did lose some families due to normal family situations such as moving and job changes, Hoffman said.

Although the state’s data showed 811 students in 2019 and 799 students in 2020, Hoffman said they have “actually increased enrollment throughout the year” as families have enrolled after moving into the district or through open enrollment.

“We are currently at 880 for our total enrollment. We have had many new families move into the district and/or build houses into the district, but have also gained 30 new open enrolled students this year,” she said.

Both charter schools in Clark County are the only two schools to show an increase in enrollment from October 2019 to October 2020.

Cliff Park High School enrollment, which comes from both public and private schools, went from 199 in 2019 to 241 in 2020, an increase of 42 students.

Director Jeff Waechter said there are two reasons why the schools enrollment has grown.

He said the first is “spurred by word of mouth advertising.”

“Families talk and students talk. I feel that they have found that Cliff Park is a great alternative when they are just not succeeding in their previous school, whether that is a traditional school or online. The staff has worked very hard to create a safe and welcoming environment that draws in students and causes them to talk to friends and family,” he said.

Second, Waechter said, is investments in career technology programs over the last few years.

“Students now will graduate not only with their high school diploma, but with a meaningful, industry recognized credential that will help them find a job that pays a sustainable living wage in our community,” he said.

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Waechter said the schools enrollment has been trending upward for the past several years.

“I think that reflects the quality program and staff that are here to support our students and community,” he said. “The increase in enrollment has enabled us to bring in more staff to serve these students. Our class sizes are small and in most cases, there are two teachers per classroom so there is a lot of adult support.”

The other charter school, Springfield Preparatory and Fitness Academy, enrollment went from 139 in 2019 to 156 in 2020, an increase of 17 students.

These increases could possibly be as a result of more students choosing charter schools due to COVID-19 after many families became frustrated with how school went in 2020 when districts started to plan remote and hybrid learning.

Four of the statewide online charter schools, including Ohio Virtual Academy, Alternative Education Academy, Ohio Connections and Great River Connections, saw their combined enrollment grow by 12,600 students from October 2019 to October 2020, according to ODE.

Another factor of enrollment decreases could be the result of students switching to homeschool or e-schools.

According to ODE, Ohio’s homeschool participation grew by 5,000 students, or 25%, between the fall of 2019 and fall of 2020, and community school e-school enrollment grew by 13,000 students, or just more than 50%.

ODE officials said the greatest increase in e-school enrollment was in early grades: Kindergarten increased by 2,200 students, or 250%, and enrollment in first through fifth grade grew an average of 1,300 students, or 100%.

ODE stated that the data captures two separate concerns.

“It is hard to know with certainty what each of these data points reflects about the educational choices families are making or the pandemic-related barriers they face,” ODE stated.

The first concern is about “the feasibility and quality of remote education,” which ODE said might have made some families hold off on preschool or kindergarten one more year or opt out of public schools and into homeschool. The second concern is “questions about the safety of in-person learning during a pandemic,” which ODE said might be another cause for enrollment increases in homeschool or in community school e-school.

According to ODE, the October Count Week data collection no longer exists so this data does not adhere to the same rules as previous years’ data.

Clark and Champaign Counties    
SchoolEnrollment 2020Enrollment 2019DifferenceIncrease or decrease
Cliff Park High School24119942Increase
Springfield Preparatory & Fitness Academy15613917Increase
West Liberty-Salem1,1701,19828Decrease

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