Montclair school enrollment still at 22-year low – but kindergarten is rebounding

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Felice A. Harrison-Crawford, district director of operations and school support services, said a decline in enrollment had not affected classrooms or staff.
(ERIN ROULEAU / PHOTO FILE)

By TALIA WIENER
[email protected]

As the start of the school year approaches, Montclair public schools remain at their lowest overall enrollment rate in 22 years, according to figures newly provided to the Montclair local. And registrations appear to have declined slightly over the summer.

Global enrollments for 2021-2022 had dropped by 35 students in several weeks – from 6,071 according to a July 8 report at 6,036 in a report of August 16. The last time enrollment fell below this level, according to district reports, was in 1999, when 6,016 students were enrolled.

But despite this, kindergarten enrollments for fall 2021 appeared to rebound over the summer – with 91 more students than in the July report, for a total of 387 in August, almost even with the 381 students. fall 2020. In July, the numbers were only 296, a 22% drop in kindergarten enrollment from the previous year.

The latest kindergarten enrollment figure is still 21% lower than the 484 in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic sent students home for distance learning for more than a year.

Declines have been observed in several other grade levels in recent weeks. In particular, 45 fewer first year high school students were enrolled than in the July report. Fourteen more seniors were enrolled than in July, but all other high school grades have declined.

But Felice A. Harrison-Crawford, director of operations and school support services for the district, said the decline in enrollment had not resulted in changes in staff or class composition.

Even after the first-year class size declined over the summer, it remains at 498 students – which is still two more than in the fall of 2019. If enrollment had remained at the level seen in the July report – 543 students – The freshman class would have been the largest in decades.

“I don’t see an impact on classrooms and staff, as the design of our Magnet program and the engagement of small learning communities, coupled with the individual selection by students of a wide range of courses , have always allowed us to have variable classes. sizes, ”said Harrison-Crawford.

She described the evolution of the enrollment situation as “a fluid process”.

“I think some parents are signing up later than usual this year because they’re still trying to figure out the best plan for their kids and their families, due to COVID,” Harrison-Crawford said.

The current kindergarten class size is between 17 and 21 students, Harrison-Crawford said.

“As we return to full in-person instruction, some parents and students who are reluctant to reenter the school environment and who may have chosen alternative educational programs may return to Montclair Public Schools later in the year.” , Harrison-Crawford mentioned. “I think we will see an increase in enrollment and re-enrollment of students as the school year progresses. “

The district continues to update its data to reflect students who have moved, unsubscribed or re-enrolled, Harrison-Crawford said.

“The Montclair School Board is committed to fully and safely opening our schools, for our students and staff, regardless of the number of students enrolled,” said Montclair School Board President Latifah Jannah , in an email to the Montclair local.

Earlier this summer, a representative from Montclair Kimberley Academy said the private school saw a 15% increase in applications from fall 2020-21 and an 11% increase from 2019-2020, applications kindergarten being the highest they have ever been. in five years. Immaculate Conception High School has seen steady growth since 2015-16, its principal said at the time.

Over the past year, the district has often heard from parents keen to see their students return to class, even as concerns about the continued transmission of the coronavirus in the community and the state of school facilities have repeatedly pushed back plans to a blended learning program – including during a legal dispute with the Montclair Education Association. An online petition in the spring, demanding a return to Montclair High School for all students, collected nearly 650 signatures. A group of families sued the district in February, requiring a return to full-time in-person learning.

But the district has also often heard from parents concerned for safety amid the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus as early 2021-2022 approaches. In a column from the Montclair Local, relative Melanie Robbins said she was worried that school safety plans were not adequate to protect her as an immunocompromised mother of two, who is soon expecting a third child. She had said the same thing to the Board of Education at a recent meeting.

For 2021-2022, Gov. Phil Murphy said, all districts will be required to provide a full five-day in-person education, making accommodations only for students or staff with particular health concerns. The district has filed its Safe return to school plan to state officials on June 24 and shared the plan with families in a weekly community message on June 25. The plan is a “living document that will change throughout the summer,” Superintendent Jonathan Ponds said in the post.

School plans call for indoor masking and social distancing, although officials have said there will be situations where the three feet apart recommended by the Centers for Disease Control for schools will not be possible. The school is planning a voluntary pooled testing program to help identify cases of coronavirus – testing one grade level at a time for a statistical sample, although these tests do not provide results to an individual.

It also undergoes a series of repairs to its ventilation systems, although some repairs are not made until November.

The district had not originally planned to require staff members to be vaccinated, but Murphy ordered all school staff to be vaccinated or routinely tested by October 18. The district has yet to release details of its plans to implement the order. President of the Montclair Education Association has yet to respond to multiple emails sent from August 29 asking for comment.


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