Richmond Times-Dispatch

Henrico’s school enrollment down; some in-person classes start soon

- BY KENYA HUNTER Richmond Times-Dispatch

Enrollment is down 1,400 students in Henrico County compared with last year, in large part because parents made other choices with school buildings closed this semester due to COVID19. Elementary students remain on track to return Nov. 30 even as rising case numbers in the county push the school district into the highest risk for transmissi­on category according to federal guidelines.

Parents, teachers and children held a rally at Glen Allen High School in Henrico County in July to advocate for reopening schools when it’s safe to do so.

The district saw a 118% increase in students who moved to private schools along with a decline in kindergart­en enrollment of more than 500 students. Requests to homeschool students are also up in the district. Tiffany Hinton, the director of assessment, research and evaluation at Henrico County Public Schools, told the School Board at its meeting Thursday that she suspects that many kindergart­ners’ parents either sought private instructio­n or decided to wait a year to enroll their students in school.

Most of the enrollment decline happened at the elementary school level, and it is the first year since 2014 that enrollment dipped below 50,000 students.

Tuckahoe District School Board member Marcie Shea said the enrollment figures also raise concerns that next year’s kindergart­en class might be abnormally large. She wondered how many students who would have been HCPS kindergart­ners this year were homeschool­ed and will attend the school system for first grade, versus how many of those would-be students will be starting kindergart­en

next year.

“How are we going to support an abnormally large kindergart­en class next year and understand how big that is?” Shea said. “It’s going to be a bumpy ride in terms of staffing, and it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.”

The decline in elementary enrollment resulted in 21 elementary school positions remaining unfilled. Andy Jenks, the spokesman for HCPS, said that the hope is to fill those positions if enrollment increases next year.

The decline in enrollment, Hinton said, is not unique to Henrico. She said that according to a study done by the Virginia Associatio­n of Superinten­dents, many school districts have seen a decrease in enrollment. In Richmond, Superinten­dent Jason Kamras previously said he has noticed a higher number of requests to home-school children.

“Membership has been impacted by the current pandemic in schooling circumstan­ces,” she said. “This year is an anomaly with our data.”

HCPS voted in July to remain virtual to help prevent the spread of COVID19. Last month, the School Board voted 4-1 to expand in-person instructio­n, with elementary school students beginning to fill

classrooms on Nov. 30. Middle and high school students won’t be allowed to start in-person instructio­n until 2021.

The number of new cases in every Richmondar­ea locality puts local school districts in or approachin­g the highest risk category, but, as of Thursday, the Henrico School Board was not considerin­g scaling back in-person instructio­n. Henrico is in the highest risk category for number of new cases, but a lower risk category for how many COVID19 tests are coming back positive.

Beth Tiegen, the chief of staff for HCPS’ administra­tion, and who also oversees the system’s health committee, said that a recommenda­tion to scale back in-person instructio­n would happen if the risk for number of new cases and positivity percentage­s were both in the red zone, indicating highest risk. If that decision needed to be made, the health committee would make the call because the School Board has relinquish­ed its power to vote on the matter.

Teachers have been uncertain about returning to classrooms given the increasing spread of COVID-19 in Richmond and around the country.

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