Enrollment has remained relatively steady in local school districts compared to a year ago, increasing in Hartselle City Schools and decreasing slightly in both the Decatur City and Morgan County school systems.
Decatur City Schools’ total enrollment was 8,764 students as of Monday, which is 78 fewer students than in last year’s official enrollment number used to calculate funding. The district’s official enrollment for this academic year will be calculated after the completion of 20 days of school following Labor Day.
Superintendent Michael Douglas said during a news conference Monday the less than 1% drop in students is a relief, since he initially feared losing teacher units due to lower enrollment numbers.
“That’s right where we were last year,” Douglas said. “I was extremely concerned with the pandemic that we would lose numbers and that would cause us in turn to lose teacher units, but we’ve held where we are.”
A school’s official enrollment is calculated by taking the average daily enrollment in each grade level during the first 20 school days after Labor Day. This figure determines how many state-funded teacher units a school system will receive the following year, according to the Alabama State Department of Education.
As of Monday, 1,824, or 21% of Decatur City Schools students are learning virtually and 6,940, or 79% are either blended or traditional, Douglas said. He said between 600 and 700 students from the latter group are blended-virtual, meaning they are currently virtual but remain on traditional class rosters and can transition to in-person learning at a natural break in the school year.
Douglas said all instructional formats are improving despite frustrations many families are experiencing with quarantines. He said blended and quarantined students have had the most success when they can see their teacher online and participate in class discussions in real time, as opposed to watching recorded videos.
“If you can actually patch in to where you’re essentially seeing the lesson as it happens, then you don’t miss out on that good discussion that goes on where a lot of good learning occurs,” he said.
Douglas said he understands quarantines are difficult for students and their families, but he attributes the relatively low COVID-19 numbers in the schools to the district’s stringent quarantine measures.
“That’s what’s allowed us to keep the doors open,” he said.
Hartselle City Schools Superintendent Dee Dee Jones said the district had a slight increase in enrollment this year. Enrollment for the 2019-2020 school year totaled 3,529, Jones said, and rose by 27 students to 3,556 for the current year.
“We were going to be happy with staying steady with our numbers,” Jones said of her expectations as to whether enrollment would change this year.
A total of 606 students, or 17% of the student population, were learning virtually as of Monday. The remaining 2,950, or 83% of students are attending traditional school, and Jones said she expects more virtual students to return to in-person instruction in the coming weeks.
Morgan County Schools enrollment decreased by 128 students, or 1.7%, from last year, which Deputy Superintendent Lee Willis said is likely due to COVID-19. In total, the district’s enrollment went from 7,379 to 7,251 from last school year to this year.
Willis said about 34% of students are in an “off-campus learning environment,” while the remaining 66% are attending traditional school.
Newly selected Superintendent Robert Elliott has not started in the position, but Interim Superintendent Dee Fowler said the Morgan system will assess enrollment numbers after they are officially tabulated.
“We would not be surprised to learn that COVID-19 is playing a role in enrollment statewide,” Fowler said.