Last year, Michelle Ramirez, a junior at C.D. Hylton Senior High School, was doing well in school. She received A’s and B’s, as well as the occasional C, but was overall a good student academically.
This year, however, with classes being entirely online, her grades have plummeted.
“When I was in school, I did well but now my grades aren’t the best at the moment, and it’s so hard to improve. The work they [the teachers] give us is making me overwhelmed and more anxious,” Ramirez said.
Although this may be just one incident, it is not isolated. Fairfax County Public Schools released a report last month showing that the percentage of middle school and high school students earning F’s in at least two classes jumped from 6% to 11% as of the end of the first quarter — an increase of more than 4,300 students.
The Prince William County Public School system declined a request from InsideNoVa to release similar statistics on student grades, but student accounts confirm that online learning is causing academic struggles.
“Our teachers hand out work faster than we can finish them, and it is so easy to become burned out,” said Kyndall Evans, a senior at Charles J. Colgan Senior High School.
These struggles have not gone unnoticed by parents, who have been removing their children from Prince William schools by the thousands.
Compared with September 2019, Prince William public school enrollment was down 2.9% as of Sept. 30, amounting to 2,693 students, the majority of whom are in elementary school, according to data from the county and the Virginia Department of Education.
Manassas city schools and Manassas Park city schools have also seen declines in enrollment this school year, according to state data. Manassas city’s enrollment is down by 182 students, or 2.3%, and Manassas Park has seen a 3.9% drop, or 141 students. Both of the city school systems have remained virtual throughout the first semester, while in Prince William, pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first-grade students have returned to in-person learning on an optional, hybrid basis.
Although many of these drops in enrollment can be attributed to pandemic fears and struggles with online learning, they may damage future school budgets.
“Typically when there is a drop in enrollment there is a drop in revenues coming from the state. We are awarded monies based on how many students we have,” said Babur Lateef, chair of the Prince William School Board.
However, during its session that begins in January, the Virginia General Assembly is set to decide whether state school funding will be reduced based on current decreased enrollments due to the pandemic, or if money will be distributed based on expected enrollment. Schools are being funded based on their projected enrollment until March 31, but have asked to be held “harmless,” or not accountable, by the state for enrollment drops.
Lisa Zargarpur, the Coles District representative on the school board, said the school board raised the issue at a breakfast with some members of the county’s legislative delegation. “We asked that the state hold us harmless for a drop in enrollment, which directly affects funding.”
Statewide, according to education department data, the number of full- and part-time public school students is down about 3.5% from last year, or about 45,300 students.
Although the issue of lost school revenue due to falling enrollment numbers is serious this year, it may become increasingly dire if enrollment continues to drop next year or remains at its current low. The loss of revenue could affect the school system’s staffing and hiring practices, according to Lateef.
“Hopefully, if there is a vaccine that is widely available, our enrollment should return to normal in the fall,” he added.
Public school enrollment in Northern Virginia
|Falls Church City||2,649||2,500||-149||-5.6%|
|Manassas Park City||3,641||3,500||-141||-3.9%|
|Prince William County||92,270||89,577||-2,693||-2.9%|