May 22, 2024


It's Your Education

Fewer K-12 students enrolled in Whatcom schools during COVID

Enrollment in nearly all of Whatcom County’s seven public school districts have dropped, some sharply, likely because of COVID-19 and the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, according to new figures and a news release from the state on Wednesday, Oct. 7.

Hundreds of Whatcom families didn’t enroll students in public schools for the start of the school year, a trend that’s being seen statewide.

In Whatcom County, only Meridian School District had an increase.

Statewide, enrollment dropped by 2.8% in the state’s public K-12 schools, or nearly 31,000 students out of Washington’s total of nearly 1.1 million, according to a news release from the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

“We are not alone in this,” said Chris Reykdal, superintendent of Public Instruction. “As our nation continues to fight the spread of COVID-19, states across the country are seeing changes in K–12 enrollment as families make decisions about the safest and most effective learning environments for their children.”

“With the uncertainty of what this school year would bring, it is not a surprise to see these shifts in enrollment,” Reykdal said in the release.

He encouraged families to stay in touch.

“However, most of our districts are working around the clock to simultaneously provide instruction at a distance while preparing for a return to in-person learning. As families make important decisions about their children’s’ learning, I strongly encourage them to stay connected to their local school district to ensure a smooth transition as safe in-person learning options return,” Reykdal said.

The new data compared enrollment in September 2020 to September 2019.

A big portion of the decline is being attributed to families not enrolling kindergarten-age children, possibly because they’re delaying the start of kindergarten, according to the release.

A continued decline in enrollment will affect how much money schools get from the state.

The release highlighted overall enrollment, kindergarten enrollment and enrollment in alternative learning experience courses, which the state said are public education courses where some or all of what is taught is delivered outside of regular classroom schedules.

Here’s a look at what the state data shows for Whatcom County schools.

The Bellingham Herald has asked school officials in Whatcom for their thoughts on what’s driving the enrollment trends for their districts and is waiting for those responses.

In Whatcom County, public schools started the school year with online distance learning, although four school districts are planning to soon bring back their youngest learners and other students with special needs for in-person learning.

Bellingham Public Schools

This school district has the most students, by far, in Whatcom County.

It had 382 fewer K-12 students enrolled this September compared to the same time in 2019.

That represented a 3.3% drop in overall enrollment, which totaled 11,094 for the start of this school year.

Bellingham families enrolled 75 fewer kindergartners.

The current enrollment of 734 kindergarten students represented a drop of nearly 9.3%.

As for students in alternative learning experience courses, that number jumped to 481, representing an increase of 75.5%.

Statewide, about one-third of the total decrease in enrollment — or more than 11,000 students — is being attributed to the drop in kindergarten students, according to the state.

At 14%, that was the largest drop by grade level, although the state said that the early grades had larger declines in enrollment across the board than older students.

Statewide, the number of students enrolled in the alternative learning courses was up nearly 50% to 44,000, according to the release.

Blaine School District

Families enrolled 63 fewer students, a drop of a little over 2.8%.

The school district now has 2,123 students.

However, it gained seven kindergarten students for a total of 167. That’s an increase of more than 4.3%.

It has six more students in alternative learning experience courses — a total of 86 for an increase of 7.5%.

Ferndale School District

The district has 4,193 students — a decrease of 331 students compared to September 2019.

That represented a drop of 7.3% in total enrollment.

Fewer families enrolled their students in kindergarten as well.

The district has 272 kindergartners, a loss of 82 students — representing a 23.1% decline.

It also had seven fewer students enrolled in alternative learning experience courses, representing a loss of over 20.5%. The current enrollment is 27 students.

The district’s overall enrollment also may have dropped because of the curtailment of the Intalco Works aluminum smelter near Ferndale, resulting in the loss of about 700 jobs in the area. Layoffs began in the spring, with the curtailment expected to be completed by the end of July 2020.

Lynden School District

Families enrolled 195 fewer students, a decrease of 5.7%.

The school district now has 3,189 students.

Lynden has 228 kindergartners, a decrease of 68 students from last year — representing a drop of 22.9%.

However, it has 192 more students in alternative learning experience courses, for a total of 479 students or an increase of 66.9%.

Meridian School District

This is the one school district in Whatcom that didn’t see a drop in its overall enrollment in K-12.

It has 1,796 students, an increase of 59 students, which is 3.4% of enrollment

However, it has six fewer kindergarten students. The total of 131 kindergartners represent a decline of more than 4.3%.

Meridian has 151 more students in alternative learning experience courses, for a total of 386 students or an increase of 64.2%.

Mount Baker School District

The school district has 93 fewer students, at 1,675 for the start of the school year. That’s a drop of over 5.2%

The school district now has 2,123 students.

However, it gained 101 students in alternative learning experience courses — for a total of 127 and an increase of 388.4%.

Mount Baker also has 106 kindergarten students, a decrease of 25 students. That’s a 19% decline.

Nooksack Valley School District

The district experienced a slight drop in K-12 enrollment, with 16 fewer students — representing a decline of 0.86%.

It has 1,839 students.

Fewer families enrolled their youngest students, with 56 fewer kindergartners.

It has 144 kindergarten students, representing a drop of 28%.

This story will be updated.

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Kie Relyea has been a reporter at The Bellingham Herald since 1997 and currently writes about social services and recreation in Whatcom County. She started her career in 1991 as a reporter and editor in Northern California.