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Recent Department of Education report says enrollment is down but in Crook County, it is slightly up from last year

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Recent Department of Education report says enrollment is down across the state but in Crook County, it is slightly up from last year.

The pandemic has taken its toll on school enrollment, a new report shows, but local data suggests that Crook County has not suffered the same student decline.

The Oregon Department of Education released a report earlier this month that revealed about 3.7% fewer students had enrolled in public schools in 2020-21 compared to the previous school year. The report, based on Oct. 1 data, said that 21,744 fewer kids were enrolled in school this school year and that one quarter of the decline was experienced in kindergarten with 6,171 fewer students.

Oregon is apparently not alone. The department of education noted that most states throughout the country have seen declines, with the steepest drop coming at the kindergarten level. The department attributes the change to the transition to Comprehensive Distance Learning, which began this past spring. The transition has presented significant challenges, ODE stated, and a rebound in enrollment is anticipated once students resume in-person learning.

Crook County has seemingly bucked the statewide trend. As of Jan. 31, the local school district has 42 more students than it did at the same time last school year. Educators attribute this, in part, to the fact that they have provided more in-person school than many other Oregon communities this school year.

Students in grades K-3 have attended full-time school for the entire 2020-21 year, and grades 4-5 began attending full time in early October. Middle and high school students began attending classes twice a week in rotating cohorts in early October and transitioned to full-time during the last week of January.

"We are fortunate to have provided in-person options for families, so we have not seen the same level of reduction as other districts in the region and state," said Assistant Superintendent Joel Hoff.

Although enrollment is up overall, the schools and programs that students are attending are much more diverse than the previous school year. The school district's online option gained 167 students for a total of 196, and its newly launched Grizzly Mountain HomeLink homeschool program has 222 students. In addition, Pioneer Secondary Alternative High School more than doubled its enrollment, adding 62 more students for a total of 107.

Because of these increases, other schools in the district saw a decline. Crook County High School has 115 fewer students this year (621) and Crook County Middle School has 108 fewer students for a total of 580. Barnes Butte and Crooked River elementary schools saw declines of 236 and 157, respectively, however, some of those students likely attend the new Steins Pillar Elementary School, which has 203 students.

One way in which Crook County School District mirrors the state is in kindergarten. Enrollment dropped from 274 last school year to 253 for 2020-21.

Whether the enrollment diversity will continue beyond the pandemic is not yet known, but Hoff suspects that some families will continue to utilize the new distance learning and homeschool options after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

"I think we certainly have more students in non-traditional school settings this year as a result of COVID," he said. "If I were to guess, I expect that enrollment will shift back to more traditional, in-person school settings next year, but there still will be more families stick with online and hybrid options than before COVID."

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