Enrollment has dropped off this fall in light of remote learning realities in MCPS
Following an announcement from MCPS on July 21 that students would not return to in-person school for at least the first semester, a large number of MCPS families opted to unenroll in favor of private education or homeschooling options.
At the Montgomery County Board of Education (BOE) meeting on Oct. 6, MCPS revealed that the enrollment total for the 2020-2021 school year is 161,150 students, marking a drop-off of more than 4,100 students since last year, when enrollment totaled 165,267.
According to Superintendent Jack Smith at a Board meeting on Sept. 13, this large shift has for the most part occurred in elementary schools. While most middle and high schools met their expected enrollment numbers this year, no elementary schools reached their projections.
Melissa Wilets, the mother of a 12-year-old starting sixth grade this year, decided to transfer her son to the independent Washington Waldorf School due to the high screen time MCPS expects of students amidst virtual learning. She disapproved of the county’s learning model in the spring, noting the “heavy reliance on technology.”
Wilets already knew a family with a student enrolled at Waldorf who had a positive experience with the school’s virtual learning strategy. “We heard good reports about how they were teaching the kids and how they were able to translate what they normally do to this new environment,” she said.
When she initially transferred her son, Wilets hoped that he would be learning in a physical classroom; instead, the Waldorf school adopted a hybrid model, including both virtual and in-person learning. “They are going in person once a week and have an hour and a half with their teachers and classmates outside with masks on,” she said. “I think that’s really made a difference. Kids get to interact with each other in person, which isn’t happening with MCPS.”
Junior Caroline Quinn also changed schools in light of COVID-19, transferring from Walt Whitman to St. Andrews Episcopal School in Potomac. Quinn is satisfied with her decision because she will be going back to school in person as soon as this week. “It’s hard to feel like you’re really going to school right now because we are still online, but I’m looking forward to going in person,” she said.
Last year, only 74 students unenrolled in MCPS in favor of homeschooling. However, this year almost 1,080 students have left the public school system to be homeschooled, according to data presented to the BOE.
Hemakshi Gordy, who graduated from Blair in 2020 and decided to take a gap year due to COVID-19, has been tutoring two elementary school students. They unenrolled from MCPS over the summer and are homeschooling this year.
Gordy explained that the students were due to start kindergarten and second grade at Takoma Park Elementary School this fall. However, when MCPS unveiled its new virtual learning plan over the summer, their mother decided that homeschooling would be a better fit.
As a single parent working a full-time job, the students’ mother does not have the capacity to help two small children with their schoolwork throughout the day along with her job, so she decided to hire Gordy to teach them in person. “It was going to be hours and hours of Zoom, something like nine a.m. to three in the afternoon for elementary school kids, and that is absolutely not reasonable or possible for most families,” Gordy said, “let alone for families where both parents are working or parents who don’t speak English. It just wasn’t going to work out.”
Elizabeth Danielski, a Blair junior, also seriously considered a switch to private school over the summer. However unlike Wilets and her family, Danielski decided to remain in MCPS.
Danielski explained that the private schools that she looked into did not have the same diversity in course options as Blair, so by remaining in public school she has the opportunity to take the classes that she’s interested in. “AP Chemistry is one of the classes that the private schools we looked at didn’t have… so I’m glad that I got to stay with MCPS for that,” she said, “but on the other hand, a lot of private schools are open now, and for a lot of my other classes, that would probably be a more effective method of learning.”