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In Carroll County, private school enrollment jumps as public school numbers drop

Enrollment has spiked at Carroll Lutheran School in Westminster with the number of families who have kids in the school doubling, according to Principal Mandy Gilbart.

About 67 students and 45 families attended CLS during the 2019-2020 school year, but now the school is up to 118 students and 90 families. The middle school class has nearly doubled, kindergarten, third and fourth grades have the longest waiting lists and special education population is larger than normal.

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Other private schools in the county are experiencing similar increases during the pandemic while Carroll County Public School enrollment numbers have dropped.

Karl Streaker, the school system’s director of student services, said it was premature to comment on CCPS enrollment numbers because they will not have finalized data until Nov. 20.

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“We’re eager to get the same information,” he said.

CCPS officials have said that about 700 students, or 3% of the approximately 25,000 students enrolled last year, were not taking part in online classes in late September.

Streaker said last week that more than 90% of all students participated in virtual and/or in-person learning on Oct. 19, the first day elementary and middle school students were able to return to school buildings twice per week under a hybrid model. High school students are expected to make their hybrid return on Nov. 12.

Private school officials said parents are choosing their schools because of their ability to offer full-time in-person learning from the beginning of the school year. And a few have noted their students and staff, a significantly smaller population than in public schools, have had zero positive COVID-19 cases.

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Gilbart said a big group of parents who joined Carroll Lutheran School, for children in kindergarten through eighth grade, were struggling to both work and watch their children. She said some families were already thinking of switching to private schools for the class sizes, curriculum and connection with school staff.

“COVID was the final nail in the coffin,” Gilbart said.

During the summer, plans for a lot of parents were still uncertain, she said. But by August, Carroll Lutheran received panic calls from parents wanting to enroll their children. The last round of parents, were asking if students could attend for only part of year or until the public schools offered in-person classes again.

Gilbart said she’s aware that if the public schools open fully, enrollment could go back down, but wondered how many would stay. She said they had students who didn’t know about praying ask their parents to pray before meals and for Bibles of their own.

“You can really make a big influence on a child’s life in 170 days,” Gilbart said.

The CLS principal said they’ve had in-person learning five days a week and no reports of a positive COVID-19 test among students and staff. Classes started Sept. 8.

Carroll Christian Schools saw a bump as well. They went from 310 students to 327.

Matthew Reisberg, the school’s administrator said it’s “obviously” because parents wanted their students to learn in person. They have been offering in-person instruction for the past 11 weeks, according to Reisberg and have not had anyone from the school community test positive for the virus.

“Distance learning did not [do] well for most schools across the nation and our goal was to have on-site learning,” he said.

Some classes at Carroll Christian were cut down to maintain social distancing. It contributed to the waiting list for elementary schools. The administrator said they still have room on the middle and high school levels.

Reisberg said they are doing temperature checks, students and faculty are wearing masks and barriers were placed inside of the classroom.

“Anybody that has any sort of cold or sickness is not allowed to come,” he said, adding that he applauds the parents for taking ownership and following the guidelines.

Jo Marie Tolj, principal of St. John Catholic School in Westminster, said the school’s enrollment boost happened even before schools closed in March. They have 294 students enrolled right now, 22 more than last school year.

They have a waiting list in almost every grade, she said, and they also offer in-person instruction five days a week. Tolj said about 10% of their students have opted for fully virtual, synchronous learning. A camera system they purchased allows students to “Zoom in remotely” and participate in the class, she said.

The principal said she and her staff have worked proactively since the spring and planned to make sure in-person learning was possible by Aug. 30, the first day of school. Aside from wearing masks and keeping a distance, Tolj said students were split into two cohorts and are not allowed to mingle. They do not use the cafeteria, the lockers, nor the hallways. And they must use the exterior doors.

Lorraine Fulton, deputy head of school at Springdale Preparatory in New Windsor, said they have 57 students with the potential of adding seven or eight new families before the school year is over.

“What we have seen, especially seen in the last month or so, is an increase in families seeking in-person instruction,” she said.

The enrollment numbers haven’t changed much at Springdale, a boarding school that has been home to out-of-state and out-of-country students. They had 64 or 65 students last school year. However, the school’s priority is not to increase numbers, but make sure they find students who fit the school’s mission and are going to be happy, Fulton said.

She said they are also not accepting many students from different states because of the coronavirus.

Sam Havighurst, North Carroll Community School’s administrator, said 98 students were enrolled last school year and 147 are enrolled this year.

“I think that given the current educational landscape, it’s great for families and parents to have a choice when selecting the best school or plan for instructing their children,” he said. “We have a great educational philosophy at NCCS, and we’re happy to be one of the choices families have at this time.”

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