San Diego Unified School District enrollment drops amid pandemic, especially among kindergartners
District says enrollment for the 2020-21 school year is below projections by about 2,470 students.
The San Diego Unified School District says its student enrollment numbers have dropped below projections made before the coronavirus pandemic forced school campuses to close.
As of Sept. 16, about 100,348 students were enrolled in district schools — 2,474 students, or 2.4 percent, less than what was expected, the district said Sept. 18.
San Diego Unified includes the six public schools in the Mission Bay Cluster: Mission Bay High School, Pacific Beach Middle School, Kate Sessions Elementary School, Pacific Beach Elementary School, Barnard Mandarin Magnet Elementary School and Crown Point Junior Music Academy.
The largest group of students not enrolled in the 2020-21 school year is kindergartners, who make up about 1,680 of unenrolled students. The children had been enrolled in transitional kindergarten in June and were expected to enter kindergarten in the fall.
Details about unenrolled students in other grade levels were not immediately available, said district spokeswoman Maureen Magee.
Last year’s enrollment at San Diego Unified schools was 102,270, according to data from the California Department of Education.
Students started the school year Aug. 31, only instead of sitting in classrooms, they were home sitting in front of laptops.
San Diego Unified plans to provide limited in-person help sessions to students experiencing learning loss and those with disabilities who have high needs.
The lower enrollment of students in kindergarten concerns district leaders, who have emphasized the value of early-childhood education.
“Those early grade levels are critical times in the life of a student,” Superintendent Cindy Marten said in a statement. “They set a child up for success in later grades, not just academically, but socially and emotionally as well.”
The school district said it is conducting outreach to families who have not enrolled their children in school, with a special focus on students in kindergarten.
All kindergartners are issued Chromebooks and can receive free breakfast and lunch at 81 distribution sites across the county.
San Diego Unified trustee Sharon Whitehurst-Payne said in a statement that kids who miss out on kindergarten can’t get the year back.
“Kids soak up so much at that age,” said Whitehurst-Payne, who is an advocate for early-childhood education. “Whether it’s online or in person, engaging with a teacher and fellow kindergartners is essential to a child’s progress.”
School districts closed campuses in March amid rising coronavirus cases in the region, leaving schools scrambling to roll out distance-learning programs and provide students with laptops to accommodate the new reality.
Public schools must take daily attendance during distance-learning classes, and San Diego Unified teachers are required to provide three hours of live instruction daily.
Andrea Lopez-Villafaña writes for The San Diego Union-Tribune. PB Monthly staff contributed to this report.