How many kids are in school? Where is it most crowded? 5 things to know about enrollment

Palm Beach Post | By Katherine Kokal | October 27, 2022

Despite a return to in-person schooling and a disappearance of most COVID-19 precautions, Palm Beach County’s public school enrollment numbers aren’t at pre-pandemic levels, but they’re slowly coming back.  

Enrollment counts taken in early October and released Tuesday show the district is responsible for 187,011 students in its K-12 classrooms, including more than 22,000 charter school students.

That number is down 5,356 pupils from the count in fall 2019 before the pandemic upended school life and sent students into virtual classrooms.

In contrast to last year’s figures, virtual school enrollment was down 433 to just 267 students this year, district numbers show. District officials say they think it’s because families are more “comfortable” with sending their students back to school in-person this year. 

The 2022-23 school year is the second year in a row that the district has recorded between 350 and 400 more students over the year prior. Although the trend is creeping higher, enrollment gains are minuscule in comparison with the 6,102 students the school district lost between fall 2019 and fall 2020. 

Here’s what to know about this year’s state headcount: 

1. The biggest percentage gain is in pre-K 

In traditional classrooms — excluding virtual, charter and alternative programs — the district reported its largest gain in pre-K students.

This year, 163 students, 5% more, pre-K students enrolled in traditional public schools.

It’s the second year where the district saw its largest enrollment boost from its youngest students. 

Last year, kindergarten classes saw the largest increase in the number of students as a result ofa “boomerang effect” caused by widespread reports of parents delaying their children’s entry into kindergarten in 2020, when the year began virtually and later split into in-person and livestreaming remote lessons weeks later.

Nationally, the number of preschool and kindergarten students decreased by 13% in 2020, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

2. Middle school enrollment is down 

Also among traditional classrooms, the only grade levels that saw declines were those in middle school. 

The district reported 35,390 middle school students this year, down from 35,923 last year for a total loss of 533 kids. 

But those numbers don’t tell the whole story.

About 309 students included in that decrease were middle-school-aged students who attend classes at one of the district’s six K-8 schools.

Three K-8 schools opened last year, and the enrollment report counted them as “elementary” students despite their grade level, according to the district report. 

Still, that leaves the district with a 0.8% drop. 

The district found that the number of elementary students increased by 0.8% in the last year for a total of 73,933. High school enrollment increased by 0.9% to 53,910.

Hidden Oaks Elementary School 5th grade math teacher Michelle Gottlieb speaks to her homeroom class during the first day of school at Hidden Oaks Elementary School in Lake Worth, FL., on Wednesday, August 10, 2022.
Hidden Oaks Elementary School 5th grade math teacher Michelle Gottileb speaks to her homeroom class during the first day of school at Hidden Oaks Elementary in Lake Worth, FL, on Wednesday, August 10, 2022. Andres Leiva, Palm Beach Post

3. 18 of 23 high schools are over 90% capacity 

The state headcount of students in October and February are used to pull in the money from the state that’s tied to each student. The results also give valuable insights into which schools are nearing or over capacity. 

This year, all but five high schools in the district reported enrollment numbers at or above 90% of campus capacity. 

And nine of those schools are over 100% capacity: Alexander W. Dreyfoos Jr. School of the Arts and Boca Raton, Forest Hill, John I. Leonard, Olympic Heights, Palm Beach Central, Park Vista, Santaluces and Spanish River high schools.

But relief is on the way. 

Next fall, a new high school with room for 2,600 students will open west of Lake Worth Beach. It is likely to directly alleviate crowding at nearby Park Vista, Palm Beach Central and John I. Leonard, although the boundary-drawing process for the new campus has yet to begin. 

4. Some elementary and middle schools also brimming

High enrollment numbers aren’t just crowding high school campuses. 

Three elementary schools and one middle school reported being over capacity this year: Meadow Park Elementary in West Palm Beach, The Conservatory at North Palm Beach, Whispering Pines Elementary in Boca Raton and Boca Raton’s Don Estridge High Tech Middle School.

Meadow Park’s enrollment numbers include part-time pre-K students, which means its full-time student capacity is slightly lower than the 119% capacity recorded. 

The Conservatory, a K-8 school, has leased temporary space to help deal with its 126% capacity, according to the district report.

5. Virtual school student enrollment is down 61%

In the last school year, Palm Beach County virtual programs run by the district had 700 students.

This year, that number is down by 61% to just 267. 

District officials attribute the drop to a natural return to classrooms. 

“We are pleased that our virtual programs were available to support our students and their families, and we are equally pleased that students are choosing to return to our brick-and-mortar school as families become more comfortable,” Deputy Superintendent Ed Tierney said in a statement about enrollment. 

School campuses were prohibited by the state from implementing mask mandates this year, and each Palm Beach County school stopped reporting all COVID-19 cases to the district.

Although the county saw a bump in cases caused by omicron subvariants over the summer, there were no major interruptions to in-person schooling in the first two months of the school year as those case numbers dropped.

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