As school districts near the end of the first month of school, some families that opted to home-school their children last year have decided to reenroll their students this year. Data suggests enrollment rates are shaping up to be similar to pre-pandemic numbers.

School boards across the Augusta-area shared their current school enrollment rates, and most schools, if not all, have numbers similar to the 2018-2019 school year.

“Losing” students to home schooling was widely talked about among districts, but mainly in Regional School Unit 12, where at least 40 students opted to home-school despite the district being in-person, five days a week.

RSU 12 Superintendent Howie Tuttle said the district enrollment went from 1,418 students last year to 1,515 this year.

Julianne Dumas, like some other families, opted to home-school her child last year due to her fears around the coronavirus pandemic.

“We were nervous about COVID-19 like everyone was,” Dumas said. “At the start of (last) school year, there was no vaccine for anyone.”

Julianne and Otto Dumas outside their Whitefield home on Sept. 24. After home schooling her son last year because of the pandemic, Dumas reenrolled him in school this fall in part because of the way the district operated in light of COVID-19.  Photo courtesy of Juli Dumas

Dumas said homeschooling made sense for them — she was home with two young babies and was able to teacher her son, Otto, a kindergarten curriculum she purchased.

Otto would have been a student at Whitefield Elementary School last year and attended pre-K there before that, but Dumas not like the virtual aspect the district participated in when the pandemic first started. Though the RSU 12 schools were in-person full time, Dumas was still nervous about Otto catching the virus.

But now, with the vaccine available and after seeing how Whitefield Elementary and RSU 12 handled the pandemic, she decided to reenroll Otto this year and send him to first grade. Dumas also wanted her son to regain the socialization aspect so he could be back with his friends.

“Seeing how the school was able to handle this (past) year among a few outbreaks and seeing how other children were able to mask, they are a resilient group of kids and it’s unfortunate this way, but they are able to do it,” she said.

MSAD 11

Gardiner-based Maine School Administrative District 11 saw an increase in its enrollment, as well.

MSAD 11 Superintendent Patricia Hopkins shared at the Sept. 2 school board meeting that districtwide enrollment rates have gone from 1,946 students last year, to 1,992 students this year.

“We are not far off from where we were pre-pandemic,” Hopkins told the board. “We have some schools that are down, some that are up, but it’s been pretty steady.”

Gardiner Area High School went from having 640 students in 2019, 620 students in 2020 and 627 students last school year to an enrollment of 640 to 650 this year, reflecting similar rates from before the pandemic.

MSAD 11 Adult Education Director Joshua Farr said he has seen an increase in enrollment, mainly for the students having a remote option available.

“I can identify at least five or six right now that would not be with us if they did not have the remote option,” Farr said at the same school board meeting. “We have some young parents, both the mom and dad who will participate at different times. Without that happening, I don’t think they’d be with us.”

RSU 2

Hallowell-based Regional School Unit 2 has seen an increase in enrollment, too, mainly at Hall-Dale Middle and High School. Though the middle school gained fifth graders from Hall-Dale Elementary School in order to make room for social distancing, enrollment rates are still up from 472 in 2019 to 570 students now.

HDES is “up 38 new students” according to Principal Kristie Clark at the Sept. 2 RSU 2 school board meeting, though she did say seven students opted for home schooling this year. She said normally, with the fifth graders included, HDES has around 375 students. This year, without fifth graders in the building, the school has 285 students.

RSU 2 school board member Chris Myers Asch asked Hall-Dale Middle and High School Principal Mark Tinkham why he thinks the enrollment went up. Tinkham credited the increase to families that have moved around during the pandemic.

“We have them from all over,” he said. “We have recouped a number that home-schooled last year and in the 23 we lost, some have chosen to home-school. We have students coming in from other towns, other states, a bulk of them are new students moving into the RSU.”

Although Dumas reenrolled Otto and they are happy with the decision, as he has adjusted well to being among his friends again, she and her husband are still “keenly aware” of the delta variant. Dumas is not sure what the pandemic would have to look like for her to take Otto out of the district, but she said she finds comfort knowing they could pull him out any time they feel uncomfortable.

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