Thousands of students leave Broward elementary schools
Originally Published by: Sun-Sentinel.com – August 25th, 2020
Thousands of elementary school students have left Broward schools this year, likely due to the district’s decision to start all classes online.
Some families are choosing home schooling or charter schools, while others may be just delaying their child’s education until school campuses reopen to students.
Broward started its new school year Aug. 19, the first in South Florida. Palm Beach and Miami-Dade schools start online Aug. 31, so it’s unclear whether they will see similar declines.
Enrollment in Broward’s district-run schools is down to about 215,000. That’s a decline of about 7,600 students, or 3.5%, from last year. Most of the students — about 5,100 — are in elementary schools, representing a 5.5% drop.
“These students need more supervision and probably have the most difficulty sitting by a laptop by themselves, so parents may be exploring other options,” said Joseph Beck, the demographer for Broward schools.
District officials hope many of these students will return once school campuses reopen. Superintendent Robert Runcie said Tuesday that could be sometime this fall if Broward County reduces the spread of the virus.
However, if the students don’t return by October, the district will likely lose millions of dollars, since funding is based on enrollment. That could lead to teacher layoffs, although no decisions have been made yet. These cuts would be on top of any funding cuts the state makes due to COVID-19′s impact on the economy. Some cuts will be temporarily offset by federal coronavirus relief dollars.
Middle school student enrollment is down about 1,500, about half of which can be attributed to students switching to charter schools, district data shows. Enrollment in high schools is down about 100, while pre-K programs and alternative schools are each down by a few hundred students.
District officials were expecting an overall 2,500 student decline in enrollment due to demographic changes since fewer young families have been moving to Broward. But this huge drop has caused some concern. Runcie said the district will conduct a survey of parents to find out why they left.
The district is also conducting a social media campaign to try to bring kids back, especially kindergarten students. The district has about 1,300 fewer kindergarten students this year, the largest drop of any grade level.
“It’s not too late to register your child in kindergarten! Our teachers will joyfully engage your child through #BCPSeLearning until we are able to transition back into our schools,” reads a district Facebook message posted Friday.
Among the elementary schools that had big declines were Tropical in Plantation, Fairway in Miramar, Tradewinds in Coconut Creek, Manatee Bay in Weston and Park Trails in Parkland. Each lost more than 100 students and more than 10% from last year.
Beck said one factor in the drop in kindergarten students could be a movement known as “redshirting,” where parents decide to delay their children’s entry into kindergarten by a year. Traditionally, parents have chosen this because they think an extra year will help their children be more intellectually, socially and emotionally mature by the time they enter kindergarten.
But this year, parents may have decided their kindergartner is too young to be learning online, so they would start next year, in hopes that school may return to normal.
Other parents are just getting a late start this year. The enrollment drop was actually about 1,000 students higher on the first day of school Aug. 19 than this week, so “we’ve surmised some people are kind of dragging their feet. The numbers are coming up a little every day,” Beck said.
Charter school enrollment is up about 1,700 students overall, which accounts for much of the district’s middle school decline. However, fewer than 300 of those students are in elementary school grades.
Beck said private schools, many of which have offered face-to-face learning, are not likely a major cause for the decline. He said the number of students receiving vouchers or state scholarships for private schools is actually down about 200. It’s not yet known how many families are paying for private school without assistance.
But interest in home schooling appears to be up. Time4Learning, a Fort Lauderdale based company that offers educational materials to parents who home school, has seen sign-ups triple since the pandemic started, CEO John Edelson said. He said home schooling gives parents more flexibility because they don’t have to follow the school district’s schedule.
Kara Rutherford’s 7-year-old son Hewitt is home-schooled with Time4Learning. He was enrolled in Liberty Elementary in Margate last year when the district had abruptly switched to online learning.
“That was very challenging for us. We were on [the district’s] timetable,” Rutherford said. “Having to follow their timetable was very difficult for a 7-year-old child.”
She now blocks out about two to three hours to help her son with his schoolwork. He plays with toys or their dog during the morning while she works.
Some parents have complained that Broward’s elementary curriculum, with about five hours of live instruction and interaction with teachers, has resulted in too much time in front of a screen.
Runcie said the district is now modifying its pre-K, kindergarten and first-grade program so that live instruction will continue in the morning, but students will be able to spend the afternoons doing assignments that don’t require sitting in front of a computer.