Despite intensive efforts to get them back, Arlington Public Schools has about 4 percent fewer students in class than it did pre-pandemic, according to new figures.
Superintendent Francisco Durán on Oct. 14 said the school system’s official count for the 2021-22 school year is 26,911 students, based on enrollment Sept. 30 that will be submitted to state officials as is required by law.
That’s down slightly from the 26,932 students reported on hand at the start of classes in August – such wiggles upward or downward are not unusual – but is off 3.9 percent from the 27,996 students that were reported to state officials at the start of the 2019-20 school year, before “COVID,” “pandemic,” “social distancing,” “virtual learning” and “Anthony Fauci” had made their way into the lexicon.
Durán, who arrived in June 2020 after being recruited from neighboring Fairfax County, did not mention that dropoff during his remarks to School Board members on Oct. 14. Accentuating the positive, he did note that the 26,911 figure was 16 higher than the official count reported last year at this time.
Arlington’s 3.9-percent drop actually compares favorably to nearby Fairfax County, which recently reported a decline of 5 percent (roughly 10,000) students compared to two years ago. In both districts, and in others across Northern Virginia, parents responded negatively to what they perceived as a lethargic return to in-person education in the public schools by yanking their children out.
Many parents with the means to do so moved their children to private or parochial schools – which were more nimble in getting students back in class than local public-school districts. Others opted for home-schooling, and still others moved their children to areas of the country where schools were operating in person. And school leaders across the region acknowledge that, when it comes to some students who had been in classrooms pre-pandemic, they have no idea where they have gone.
(Fairfax officials over the summer were expecting an even greater dropoff in student enrollment, and embarked on what amounted to a groveling tour – pleading with parents to trust that there’d be an effort made to keep students in classrooms five days a week going forward, come what may.
Arlington officials groveled less but also embarked on an effort that brought back some, though hardly all, those who previously had left.)
While the Sept. 30 count is “official,” Durán told School Board members it represented merely “a snapshot” and might change slightly before the numbers are formally submitted to Richmond on Oct. 29.
The 26,911 count includes both those who are back in classrooms full-time, and the roughly 3.5 percent of the student body that has opted to continue with online learning despite what school leaders have acknowledged was a rocky rollout over the first month of the school year.