Where are the kindergartners? Enrollment dropping as parents decide what's best for their kids

Posted at 12:37 PM, Dec 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-24 12:55:17-05

CLEVELAND — Where are the kindergartners? A News 5 data analysis shows kindergarten enrollment is dropping in many Northeast Ohio school districts.

Vincent and Ornette are suburban kids not attending traditional kindergarten this year.

Ornette, who lives on the west side, is ready to take on the world. But the pandemic meant the newly-minted 5-year-old wasn't ready to take on kindergarten just yet.

"But with him missing so much of pre-K, we just didn't feel comfortable that he was ready to go,” said Ornette’s mother Geeva Gibson.

Ornette has been home for the last few months instead of in a structured kindergarten class.

Amidst a pandemic, Gibson and her husband decided it would be best to keep their youngest son out of the classroom.

“I guess we can make it work,” Gibson said. “You know, I’m here and, his dad is here, but he's still not getting that consistent education that he was getting at school."

Because of Ornette’s age, and him missing a chunk of pre-K in the spring—the Gibsons decided to wait a year.

“We can't set him up to fail…so I just didn't feel that and I didn't feel comfortable with making that decision for him," Gibson said.

On the east side, 6-year-old Vincent isn't in a traditional school either.

"We found a group of people that wanted to homeschool their kids,” said Vincent’s mother Ellen Velez.

Instead, Vincent’s parents found a learning pod.

"It was Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, two and a half hours a day, so it was part-time kindergarten, but he was still getting the full curriculum,” Velez said.

The Velez family felt uncomfortable sending their son to in-person school or going fully online.

“And looking back, it was kind of silly for me to put my fears onto him, because, you know, he doesn't know any different,” Velez said.

The state of Ohio will release official enrollment data in January, but News 5 surveyed 10 local districts. Six saw double-digit decreases in kindergarten enrollment: Medina kindergarten was down 23% year to year, Cleveland was down 20%, Strongsville was down 16% and Canton was down 12%.

"We're seeing a decline of about 600 students in our kindergarten,” said Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon. “I would say about 20 to 25% fewer students than we would have predicted.”

Like every other school district, CMSD started scrambling back in March. They've found a system to reach as many students as possible.

"My educators flipped this district from being a district that had no connectivity and no devices to a one-to-one district,” Gordon said. “It was bumpy, but we did it."

But the numbers weren't adding up for the newest learners.

“We've not lived through a pandemic, and so parents were making decisions in the height of the second spike about what they were going to do for their kids,” Gordon said.

CMSD is watching future students closely and planning how to help when students who are out of the system now enroll next year.

"It may get to a do-over,” Gordon said. “You didn't get kindergarten, or it didn't catch, and so we don't retain you, we just have a boost year — we do it again. And maybe it's five and six-year-olds together in a blended classroom where kids are, you know, developmentally appropriately at the same stage."

Vincent’s pod is over now. In the new year, he’s headed back to traditional school, whatever form that takes.

"Shaker will be going back on site, so, hopefully, they will, and I’ll be sending them,” Velez said. “If not, then we'll be doing remote here."

In Seven Hills, the Gibsons will wait.

"So I will say is it has kind of been wearing on me a little more mentally because I know he's not getting what he needs for his education,” Gibson said.

Ornette is learning through play and with his parents.

"It's like we're in limbo, just like, you know, our little ones are, as it relates to their education,’ Gibson said. He'll be ready to take on kindergarten next fall.

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