Enrollment falls more than 20% during pandemic at some Salt Lake elementary schools
Kindergarten enrollment down 20%, but there’s significant declines in third and fifth grades, too
SALT LAKE CITY — Led by a significant drop in elementary school enrollment, total enrollment in the Salt Lake City School District fell by nearly 7% from a year ago, according to a report to the school board Tuesday.
The enrollment of all Salt Lake schools — district and charter — fell from 23,029 last fall to 21,460 this fall.
Overall, elementary school enrollment dropped 12.5% year to year but in some schools, head counts fell more than 20%. Enrollment at Indian Hills Elementary School, an east bench school, fell 25% while enrollment at Parkview Elementary, a Title I school, fell 23%. Beacon Heights, also located along the east bench, had a 23% drop in enrollment as well.
Enrollment in every district elementary school dipped, with declines ranging from 2% to 16%.
Sam Quantz, the school district’s chief information officer, said officials are still attempting to discern why elementary school enrollment fell so much. Kindergarten enrollment is down nationwide, and in Salt Lake schools, the count was down 20% from a year ago.
“That was, by far, our hardest hit area,” Quantz said.
But kindergarten wasn’t the only grade where there were notable declines in enrollment. First graders were down 13.4%, and numbers of third graders were down 15.5%. Fifth grade numbers were down 12.9%.
Salt Lake City School District started the school year doing solely online learning, although some students, such those who receive special education services or are English language learners, receive instruction at school. Teachers are also working with small groups of students who struggle to keep up with peers.
Board member Kristi Swett said whatever the reasons, the district needs to understand what is behind the decline in enrollment, which was lesser among middle schools, down 4% overall. There was 1% overall increase in enrollment among East, West and Highland schools.
“I think this is a historic moment in our district that we are down 1,569 students. I think that that’s something that this district, board and this administration that we have to talk about. I think it’s important that we try and figure out why that is,” Swett said.
Board member Michael Nemelka said he sees children running around in his neighborhood during the hours they are supposed to be in school.
“I think some of the parents in my area gave up,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic is playing a role, but for many parents, it’s the issue of not having the option of sending their children to school for in-person learning, Nemelka said.
“I just know that we’re struggling because of the decisions we made previously to go online, straight online, and not offer the parents the opportunity to decide one way or the other,” he said.
Board President Melissa Ford said the district’s latest enrollment “confirms, in a lot of ways, what my community has been telling me, that they’ve been pulling their kids out of elementary schools because they’re having a hard time with online learning. I think we do need to study it more. I think we do need to be concerned about it.”
There has also been a decline in public school enrollment statewide. The state’s official Oct. 1 count is still being calculated, but a head count on Sept. 9 suggests there are 9,000 fewer students attending Utah schools this fall than projections anticipated.
Most of the enrollment loss appears to be in district schools, with some shifting to public charter schools and others opting to home school or attend private schools.
Prior to the start of the school year, some 300 Salt Lake parents applied for permits to attend school in neighboring Granite School District, which offers in-person instruction four days a week with online learning on Fridays in its elementary schools.