There were a lot of comings and goings over the summer within the Lamoille South school district student population, but more people exited than entered. All said, there are 6 percent fewer students than last year.
As of Sept. 21, after enrollment numbers had a couple of weeks to even out, the student population for Lamoille South, which serves Elmore, Morristown and Stowe, stands at 1,511. That’s a decrease of 81 students.
Superintendent Tracy Wrend said, since July, 131 students transferred out of the system, and 127 new ones enrolled. Of the students who left, 51 of them moved out of the district, 39 enrolled in private schools — mostly Bishop Marshall School in Morristown — and 18 enrolled in early college. Others chose the homeschooling route.
Almost half of the incoming students, 61 of them, move to Vermont from other states. Others moved from other Vermont districts, transferred in from independent schools or homeschooling environments.
More than 170 students have not stepped foot in a school building this year, opting to learn in a fully remote setting for at least the first semester.
Noting there’s only a five-student swing in the migratory patterns, Wrend said a large part of the population decrease is the difference in size between the class that graduated in June (143 students) and the incoming kindergarten class (89 students).
“We saw a lot of family mobility, perhaps due to economic changes, perhaps due to choices to move to a location based on regional health or safety criteria,” Wrend said during a recent school board meeting. “So, there’s a lot of factors going on there and, unfortunately with kindergarten, it’s the hardest place for me to estimate what’s going on.”
Wrend noted that enrollment data fluctuates nearly daily, and will be continuously reviewed when the district starts next year’s budget talks. And it’s not just Lamoille South — this is a worldwide pandemic, after all — and Vermont’s education fund is tied to student populations in all public schools.
Stowe board member Norm Williams noted that the numbers don’t reveal what the statewide student census will be, based on different calculations in the “equalizing” of students for school funding purposes.
“We’re really going to need to pay close attention to statewide responses to the prevalence of this kind of change in schools across the state and what that means for education funding, tax rates and things like that,” Wrend said.
Back to school, even more
Some Lamoille South schools will double the amount of time students are allowed to be taught in the actual, physical campus, starting next week.
The elementary and middle schools will bring kids back Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday for in-person learning, keeping Wednesday remote for deep cleaning and continuous re-assessment of how things are going.
High schools will remain in the split model, with only half the population in the school on any given day, since those students do a lot more traveling throughout the halls than the younger children. There will be some flexibility in the high school level, though, to allow students to have more face-to-face time with their teachers — albeit with masked faces.
Vermont schools entered the school year in what the state referred to as Step 2, which allowed students in the schools, but discouraged the use of common areas such as gyms and cafeterias. It relaxed those restrictions in the last week of September, but Lamoille South took a wait-and-see approach, as there was a brief uptick in COVID-19 cases in the county.
“While there was a spike in county level data in mid-September, the prevalence of positive cases in our community is still well below thresholds for any sort of action, and actually has stabilized and declined, so that’s a good sign,” Wrend said last week. “Still watching that data.”