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Returning to in-person learning may help turn tide of declining enrollment numbers

COURTESY PHOTO: OCSD - Oregon City elementary school students were excited to see their teachers in person for the first time in over a year.Oregon City elementary students largely began returning to schools this week after more than a year of closures sparked by the emergence of COVID-19 in Oregon last March.

Families can choose to remain learning fully online, although most in Oregon City were excited to send their kids back to schools that are taking safety precautions like extra cleaning protocols, health checks and required face masks. Most elementary students in Oregon City began returning to schools on March 29, while middle and high school students are scheduled to return to in-person learning on April 12.

COURTESY PHOTO: OCSD - Oregon City elementary students are required to wear masks while waiting for and riding school buses.Families of elementary students who chose to return to some in-person classes were divided into two cohorts of less than 20 each per teacher. Each teacher's first cohort of students is attending in-person school on Monday and Tuesdays, with Cohort B attending in-person school on Thursdays and Fridays. Students in this hybrid model get instruction each day from their teacher either before or after lunch, while Wednesdays are set aside for online meetings with each teacher's entire class.

"All of these options would not be possible without the dedication of our amazing staff and the partnership we have with our community and families," Superintendent Larry Didway wrote to families. "We appreciate your support, patience and understanding as we transition to this next phase."

Oregon City School District's enrollment fell 8% from 8,018 students last year to 7,380 this school year. The state as a whole saw a smaller decline in the number of students enrolled in school this academic year, as compared to the OC School District. According to data released by the Oregon Department of Education, the state saw a 3.7% decline in student enrollment from the prior year, as of Oct. 1, 2020.

ODE noted 21,744 fewer students were enrolled in schools across Oregon, compared with the same time last year. State education officials attributed the decline in enrollment to school closures causing "significant challenges" for families and anticipated that enrollment will rebound once students resume in-person learning.

Enrollment numbers suggest that parents in Oregon City were overall more frustrated by extended school closures than the average parent statewide, despite executive orders by Gov. Kate Brown. On Dec. 23, Brown ordered that teachers be vaccinated early, among other rule changes to encourage more Oregon schools, especially elementary schools, to transition to in-person instruction by Feb. 15.

COURTESY PHOTO: OCSD - Oregon City elementary schools welcomed back students with traditional signs, while other new signs reminded kids about hand sanitizing and other protocols to combat COVID-19.According to the data, 560,917 students were enrolled during the first month of the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year. More than a quarter of the decline occurred in kindergarten, the state education agency noted, with more than 6,100 fewer kindergartners enrolled this year.

The new enrollment numbers reverse an upward trend in enrollment statewide since 2015-16. In fact, according to archived records from ODE, the last time Oregon's public school enrollment dropped below 561,000 students was in 2011-12, when the state logged 560,946 students. Prior to that, 2005-06 was the last time enrollment was below 560,000.

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