Enrollment down across area

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, December 8, 2021

New data recently released by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) reveals public school enrollment has dropped 3.6% across the commonwealth since before the pandemic, but many local counties are sporting even worse figures.

VDOE data says more than 46,000 fewer students were enrolled in Virginia public schools this fall compared to 2019.

In Prince Edward County, the local school system is down by 140 students, or 6.8%.

Buckingham County has dropped significantly in enrollment by approximately 180 students, or 8.5%.

Cumberland County saw the largest nearby drop in students at 113, or 8.6%.

Nearby Charlotte County observed a similar decrease in students as the overall state. Charlotte reflected a 61-student drop in enrollment in 2021 compared to 2019, or 3.5%

Lunenburg County was one of only 21 schools in the entire state to see an increase in its student body. According to VDOE, enrollment in Lunenburg was up by 17 students, or 1.1%, as of this fall.

While many rural areas saw significant drops in public school enrollment over the last two years, urban areas saw large losses as well. Richmond Public Schools sported the largest loss at 16% of its students. The largest increase in students occurred in Radford City with a hefty 64.5% increase in students.

Many attribute this large overall drop in enrollment to the widespread school closings and the move to online classes which occurred as a result of the pandemic. When schools did reopen to in-person learning, factors such as health concerns, social distancing, masking and the increased availability of online classes may have contributed to enrollment numbers.

“I would agree that COVID-19 has played a part in this,” Cumberland County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Chip Jones said Thursday, Dec. 2. “Since March 2020, school for some families has been challenging. Families with members who are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 or experienced a loss associated with COVID-19 have chosen not to have their children participate in ‘in-person’ instruction. Mitigation strategies such as the quarantine requirement have caused childcare issues, and some families do not support the mask mandate for (pre-K through grade 12.)

“Also, we participate in VDOE’s Virtual Virginia online curriculum which requires the Internet. In rural areas such as Cumberland County, affordable Internet is not always available, and an Internet hotspot or MIFI will not suffice due to lack of consistent cell service. Based on this, families may choose an alternate curriculum for their children which may not require access to the Internet.”

Charlotte County Public Schools (CCPS) Superintendent Robbie Mason agreed the coronavirus has had many effects on enrollment numbers.

“CCPS has experienced an enrollment loss of 3.5% since 2019,” Mason said. “While a slight enrollment loss was seen nearly annually for several years prior to 2019, much of the loss since 2019 can be attributed to either parents who were hesitant about sending their children to school due to COVID concerns or parents who have elected not to send their children to CCPS because of masking or other mitigations.”

Further data from VDOE shows the number of homeschooled children is up 39.9% since 2019, or 17,647.