MCPS enrollment down thousands from last year


Greer Vermilye

MCPS enrollment declined by over 2000 students this year following a period of sustained growth.

By Lily Freeman

Enrollment in MCPS is down for the first time in over a decade, school district officials said during a Board of Education meeting on September 10. 

The decline comes after years of positive growth: over 11,000 students enrolled in the school district in the last decade, including 2,700 during the previous school year. This year, however, enrollment is down more than 2,000 students.

Though the county has yet to report official enrollment rates to the Maryland Department of Education, MCPS officials said that there were only 162,656 students enrolled in county public schools on September 7, in contrast to the 165,267 enrollments on September 30 last year.

The decline isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm, a spokesperson for Superintendent Jack Smith said.

“There is always fluctuation in the early weeks of school,” said MCPS Department of Communications Director Chris Cram. “We have not completely assessed all the reasons for these numbers, but when we do, we will certainly be sharing with our board of education and the community.”

MCPS representatives predicted that the decline in enrollment could cost the school district about $36 million in revenue for the next fiscal year. The cut, if it goes into effect, could force the school system to lay off employees in areas that officials would deem to be overstaffed.

Whitman’s enrollment decreased by 75 students this year, possibly because of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, said attendance secretary Tabitha Davis. However, the downward trend isn’t a new phenomenon for Whitman; the enrollment declined last year by over 200 students.

Junior Claire Linton said she was taken aback by the drop in enrollment, particularly since she’s often in classes of more than 30 students.

“I’ve always heard from teachers that class sizes keep increasing,” Linton said. “It’s weird to think that fewer and fewer students could be at school in the next few years.”

In addition to the countywide decline, kindergarten enrollment is down roughly 1,500 students. 

“Many parents have chosen to leave their kindergarteners in situations that are in person,” said Board of Education member Patricia O’Neill. “Hopefully, those children will come back to us when we’re all back in brick and mortar buildings.”

Enrollment in every single MCPS elementary school is lower than projected, and throughout all grades, roughly 200 more students transferred to private schools than last year.

 After a week of MCPS virtual learning this fall, Whitman parent Myriam Vuckovic pulled her youngest son out of Wood Acres Elementary School and enrolled him in an in-person private school. Although her son had a dedicated teacher, his age made online learning infeasible for their family, Vuckovic said.

“We would have to sit next to him basically the whole school day,” she said. “He was not really engaged in that it was very difficult for him to focus on a Chromebook when he couldn’t even read properly yet.”

Vuckovic’s two older sons, who are at Pyle and Whitman, perform well in online classes, she said. But for her youngest son, in-person engagement has enabled him to successfully learn without his parents’ help.

Vuckovic plans to transfer her son back to Wood Acres when the school adopts an in-person learning format again.

In addition to struggles with online learning, families have been forced to leave the school district due to the economic effects of the pandemic.

One former Whitman parent lost their job this past summer, forcing the family to sell their Montgomery County home and move in with relatives in a different state. The parent’s two former Whitman students are now enrolled in an online homeschooling program.

“I’m sad to be leaving,” one of the students said. “I was planning to have a lot of fun this year.”

The unemployment rate in Montgomery County was 7.4 percent in July, a drastic increase from 2.8 percent in March.

O’Neill noted that the decline in enrollment is only one example of the challenges that have accompanied the pandemic.

“This is not just in Montgomery County,” O’Neill said. “Students are doing the best they can in this virtual world.”