Enrollment in Fairfax County’s public schools continues to dip, having now fallen more than 10,000 students since the onset of the pandemic.
County school leaders are banking that at least some of those students will be back once the pandemic blows over, assuming that it does.
Fairfax County Public Schools officials reported a total of 178,595 students in classes on Sept. 30, the date all school divisions across the commonwealth report “official” data to the state government.
That figure is down from 179,741 recorded in June when the 2020-21 school year ended, and is well down from the 189,010 students counted in class at the start of the 2019-20 school year.
Enrollment had held steady – in fact, increased slightly – through that school year, despite the impact of the pandemic that began in March 2020.
But the 189,852 of June 2020 dropped to 180,151 that September, when Fairfax and other public-school districts across Northern Virginia opted for a rocky “virtual”-learning environment, not giving students the chance for in-person learning. A further 410 students disappeared from the rolls by June 2021.
Many parents with the means to do so moved their children to private or parochial schools – which were much 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.
FCPS officials did not respond directly to questions posed by the Sun Gazette, but instead cited comments made by Superintendent Scott Brabrand at a recent School Board’s meeting.
Brabrand, who is leaving at the end of the school year after just five years in the post, said the district’s enrollment situation might have been worse had it not been for recruitment efforts this summer. School officials in July projected that fall enrollment would be only 171,000 students, but outreach by system officials got about 7,000 students to return, Brabrand said.
Before the pandemic, about 3,000 FCPS students were schooled at home and that figure now is more than 5,000, the superintendent said. Many of those families have indicated their children will be returning to school once vaccines become available for elementary-school children, he said.
Brabrand told the School Board he was hopeful there would be “good news” soon regarding vaccinations for children ages 5 through 11, which he said would be a “game changer” for education in the county and across the country.
FCPS is Virginia’s largest school system, with 199 schools and centers and 24,839 full-time employees.