Enrollment in DeKalb County schools not yet rebounding from pandemic

John R. Lewis Elementary School music teacher Elena Prestwood welcomes a student wearing a face shield and a face mask into the school building on the first day of in-person learning at the school in Atlanta, on March 9, 2021. The DeKalb County School District said this week that enrollment in schools has not returned to pre-pandemic levels. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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John R. Lewis Elementary School music teacher Elena Prestwood welcomes a student wearing a face shield and a face mask into the school building on the first day of in-person learning at the school in Atlanta, on March 9, 2021. The DeKalb County School District said this week that enrollment in schools has not returned to pre-pandemic levels. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

District projects next year’s numbers will mirror current figures

The DeKalb County School District is anticipating enrollment will stay steady next year rather than return to pre-pandemic levels.

“We no longer anticipate enrollment returning to pre-pandemic levels,” said DeKalb’s Director of Planning Hans Williams in a presentation to school board members on Monday. “District staff feel it is best to assume that parent education choices are unlikely to change by next fall.”

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The projected enrollment for fall 2022 is 93,700 students — close to the current enrollment. Staff considers grade progression rates, birthrates and housing trends in its forecast.

The district’s enrollment dropped by almost 5,300 students after the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020, from almost 99,000 students to fewer than 94,000.

The elementary level saw the biggest drop in enrollment during the pandemic and is projected to decrease slightly again this year, according to data presented to the school board.

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Some parents pulled their students out of public schools or chose not to send their young children as districts navigated health and safety questions prompted by the coronavirus, according to the district.

Enrollment changes can have financial impacts for school districts, which receive funds on a per-student basis.

But Williams said the outlook in the coming years is “still very good” for DeKalb.

He anticipates enrollment to eventually rebound. Earlier this month, the district unveiled a 10-year plan that aimed to address the overcrowding expected in schools in the northern part of the county as well as underutilization in the southern part.