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Public schools see decline in enrollment

Statewide, Mississippi public school enrollment dropped by 23,000 students from the previous school year. Local school districts also saw drops in enrollment, ranging from 38 to 175 students.

As of Sept. 30, 442,627 students were enrolled in Mississippi public schools, compared to 465,913 in September of the previous school year.
In a press release, the Mississippi Department of Education attributed the statewide decrease to fewer kindergarteners enrolled, an increase in homeschool students, more late registrants and a five year pattern of declining enrollment.

Picayune

The Picayune School District saw an enrollment decline of 175 students from the previous school year. The decline is very unusual since the number of students enrolled has stayed level from school year to school year for the last several years, said Assistant Superintendent Walt Esslinger.

Currently, the district has 2,978 students enrolled. At the same time in the 2019-2020 school year, the district enrolled 3,153 students, said Superintendent Dean Shaw.

The decline is consistent across grade levels, said Esslinger.

“I can say this, I’m sure out of these 175 students, I’m sure we’ve had quite a few do home school because of the COVID,” said Shaw.

Shaw said he is hopeful some of the students who are doing virtual learning are able to come back to attending in person classes in the spring.

The number of COVID-19 cases in the school district immediately before Thanksgiving was low, said Esslinger.

“Our building level administrators, staff and students have done an excellent job this semester,” said Shaw.

Pearl River County

The Pearl River County School District only saw enrollment numbers drop by 38 students, but in recent years the district saw enrollment numbers increase, so the decline is unusual, said Superintendent Alan Lumpkin.

“Over the past eight years, enrollment increased every year, so I’m sure the pandemic has had an impact in the numbers not increasing,” said Lumpkin.

The district went from 3,289 students enrolled last year to 3,251 students at the same time this school year. The high school is down 18 students, the middle school is up 12 and the elementary school is down 32 students.

There were 27 fewer kindergartners this school year, but that is not outside a normal variation for a kindergarten class. Kindergarten class sizes normally fluctuate from 225 to 275. This year’s class is 227.

“Kindergarten is not mandatory in the state of Mississippi, so I think it’s possible the pandemic had something to do with the numbers decreasing,” said Lumpkin.

The district has been able to account for all students who have withdrawn this school year.

The school district currently has one COVID-19 outbreak involving three cases reported at the high school at the end of last week, said Lumpkin. He asks everyone to stay diligent with COVID-19 precautions over the holidays so traditional in person classes can continue in the spring semester.

“I’ve been very pleased with the students and faculty in their adherence to COVID guidelines,” he said.

Poplarville

The Poplarville School District saw enrollment decline by approximately 75 students this year when compared to the previous school year, said Superintendent Konya Miller. In a typical school year, enrollment normally increases or decreases by approximately 25 students. The decrease in students is evenly spread across grade levels.

The district also had more students enroll later in the school year, going from 1,700 enrolled at the start of the year to 1,748.

“I think a lot of that is because we had a large number of students that decided to graduate early, and we do have some that decided to home school,” said Miller.

Poplarville had a graduating class of 160 in the 2019-2020 school year, 40 students over a typical graduating class of 120. While enrollment numbers have decreased, more students have moved into the school district than in a typical school year.

“We’ve seen a lot of new to the community students from out of state and different places. It’s been an unusual year,” said Miller.

Poplarville’s enrollment numbers were at the highest immediately after Hurricane Katrina, at approximately 1,800 to 1,900, she said.

All of the district’s students who have withdrawn this school year have been accounted for.

“Poplarville School District is here for our students,” she said. “We plan on coming back in January following a traditional schedule. We had great success this semester when it comes to our protocols with COVID and plan to return in January in that same fashion.”