COVID-19 has taken a bite out of enrolment at Red Deer Public Schools, which enrolled 426 fewer students last month, but the economy may also be to blame.
As of Sept. 30, the jurisdiction had 10,803 students, compared to 11,229 last year, or 3.7 per cent fewer.
Due to the pandemic, only 14 international students are registered this year. Last year, there were 103.
The decline is also due to students switching to home schooling for pandemic or other reasons, and families leaving the city, the district said.
“I think this speaks to many of the challenges we’re facing with the pandemic, but it also points to a decline in population in our city,” said superintendent Chad Erickson about the drop in enrolment.
School board chair Nicole Buchanan said the tumble will have long-term implications, because the new provincial funding model is based on a three-year enrolment average instead of yearly tallies.
“I know we’re not the only school division that is having this concern. I think it will probably be coming to the floor at the Alberta School Boards Association to advocate to the government to hopefully look at this COVID year as a one off,” Buchanan said.
About eight per cent, or 906 of enrolled students, are participating in the district’s at-home learning (online) program instead of attending class in school.
Chinook’s Edge School Division witnessed a similar percentage of students choosing online schooling, at under seven per cent.
Meanwhile, the Edmonton Public School Board reported almost 30 per cent of students going online, and 16 per cent at the Calgary Board of Education. Both those cities have recorded the majority of COVID-19 cases in Alberta.
“We’re very pleased with how many we were able to retain in a face-to-face learning environment. We feel very strongly that moving forward, our families need to be as connected to their traditional schools as possible,” said Chinook’s Edge superintendent Kurt Sacher.
Chinook Edge schools have yet to be impacted by a COVID case.
“We’re really proud of our staff and our schools for implementing the safety protocols. There are mind-boggling complexities that have come with that. The way students have stepped up and co-operated made it easier for us.”
The rural central Alberta school division experienced an enrolment dip of 314 students to 10,803, from 11,117 in 2019.
Sacher said the division actually expected to lose more students with the pandemic, the struggling economy, and government changes that make home schooling easier to access, which he said is not necessarily the best for students.
“We work to support the development of the whole child. When they go on a home-schooling journey, they sometimes have as few as two contacts a year with a teacher.
“It’s not successful, typically. There are some, a very small minority, that need that service. But as a general rule, we’ve very concerned with the position that puts the child in.”