State, education officials say student enrollment is down amid pandemic

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DENVER | Colorado has seen a dip in school enrollment since the pandemic began, a trend that the state is trying to reverse. 

At a Tuesday afternoon news conference, Aurora Public Schools superintendent Rico Munn joined Gov. Jared Polis and commissioner of education Katy Anthes in encouraging parents to enroll their children in school.

It’s so far unclear how many students aren’t attending school.

Polis did not provide any data on how many students are truant, but he said that from anecdotal information the state believes that it is an issue that needed to be addressed.

School count day is Oct. 1, the day that schools submit information to the Colorado Department of Education on how many students are enrolled in each district.

A decrease in student enrollment could cause another blow to district budgets, which are already working to prepare for the projected decrease in funding from the state due to cuts caused by COVID-19.

However, Anthes and the others stressed that this issue is important beyond school count day.

“This is not the start of the conversation, this is an explanation point,” Munn said.

In the Aurora Public School District, people have already been “knocking on doors” to try and reach families who are not enrolled. 

“This isn’t just about count day, kids need to be in school, whether online or in person,” he said.

A spokesperson from the district did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how many students in the district are not enrolled, but in a Sept. 2 school board meeting planning coordinator Joshua Hensley said that the district was about 1,000 students short of its projected enrollment.

Students who are not enrolled in either online or in-person school will lose out on the social interaction of being in the classroom and will also suffer academically, Polis said. That could mean they end up being far behind their peers when they do return to school post-pandemic.

“We don’t want them to be a year or more behind and to fall out of having those meaningful social connections,” Polis said.

He urged parents to enroll their students as soon as possible, and said that if parents are dissatisfied with their district’s online learning program they can use open enrollment to select another one in the state.

Being enrolled in school can also help students get access to resources such as mental health services, Anthes said.

Chris Rogers, president of the Colorado Child & Adolescent Psychiatric Society, said that one of the biggest stressors he’s seen in child patients recently is a sense of isolation. School provides kids with a “sense of identity” and gives a sense of structure and normalcy that has been missing for many during the pandemic, he said.

Many of the students that are most important to reach are the hardest to get in contact with, Anthes said, such as those who are homeless. She asked people in community organizations working with families, such as churches and food banks, to ask if children are enrolled in school.

“We cannot let our children’s education become a casualty of this pandemic,” she said.