A total of 486 students, representing 16% of the student body, left the Coronado Unified School District (CUSD) between the start of the Spring 2020 semester and the current Spring 2021 semester. The Spring 2020 semester began January 21, 2020 — eight weeks before COVID-19 impacted CUSD schools. The Spring 2021 semester began February 1, 2021, after a fall semester when COVID-19 meant most CUSD students participated in remote learning.
The enrollment drop was greatest at the elementary level (Village Elementary School and Silver Strand Elementary School), which lost 23%, or 272, of their spring 2020 students. Coronado High School had the smallest decline with a 7% enrollment drop representing 78 student departures. The trend at CUSD is not unique as the California Department of Education is projecting K-12 public-school enrollment has dropped by 155,000 students — five times the average — during the pandemic.
For the remainder of this 2020-2021 school year, the reduced enrollment benefits Coronado schools where students have started returning to campus. Having fewer students makes it easier to ensure six foot distancing in classrooms and on campus. Students are also benefiting from classes with a lower student to teacher ratio which allows for more personalized instruction. CHS student Sadie Chapman shared, “The smaller classroom environments mean it is easier to focus, and students are provided with more one-on-one time with the teachers.”
The most recent California state education budget allocates school funding based on the number of students as of February 29, 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic impacted California schools. As a result, CUSD currently receives $13,593 per student based on the higher number of students that were enrolled pre-pandemic last spring (3,035) versus the actual number of enrolled students this year (2,549).
Reduced enrollment could have significant implications for CUSD funding in future years. If California were to resume the funding formula based on average daily attendance for the 2021-2022 school year, Coronado could receive $6.6 million less in funding due to fewer enrolled students. However, California schools are expected to keep the per-student funding allocation based on pre-COVID-19 attendance for the next school year of 2021-2022.
Superintendent Mueller spoke of the funding implications of COVID-19 related enrollment changes, “The state decision to hold districts harmless for enrollment loss was prudent. CUSD (like most public schools) lost too many students to private schools, charters, homeschooling, or families who left California. We believe that many of our families will re-enroll when we are able to return to pre-COVID-19 learning environments. Our amazing teachers and staff have created such an amazing community of care where our students feel connected, challenged, and championed.”
All California schools have to follow the same health and safety guidelines set by the state. However, private schools are often smaller and have funds from tuition to help meet the safety requirements for in-person classes. Some of the Coronado students who left CUSD are continuing their education at private schools in Coronado such as Sacred Heart Parish School and Christ Church Day School, as well as San Diego schools like City Tree Christian Schools, St. Augustine High School, and the Academy of Our Lady of Peace.
Former CHS freshman Harry McCue switched from Coronado High School to St. Augustine High School in January 2021. “My family and I made the decision to go to Saints because we saw how good of a job they were doing with in-person learning. It’s been a great transition, but hopefully I can come back to Coronado in the future.”
Three students left Coronado High School to attend Leysin American School (LAS), a private boarding school in Leysin, Switzerland. One of these students, Andrea Ruiz de Castilla, shared that she transferred to LAS specifically because Coronado High School was not going back in-person for the fall semester and LAS was entirely in person. “My parents and I wanted the full high school experience for me. I also wanted to be able to interact with people and have as normal a high school experience as I could.”
Other former CUSD students in grades six to twelve are now attending the Charter School of San Diego, which provides a public school education in a fully online format without required attendance on live Zoom sessions. Eleventh grader Rianne Riddell transferred from CHS to the Charter School precisely because of how the Charter School is set up with pre-recorded classes that students complete on their own schedule. Rianne shared she found her Charter School experience, “COVID-19 friendly and less stressful.”
Home-schooling has additionally gained many former CUSD students — especially in the elementary grades. Several Coronado families have filed a Private School Affidavit with the California Department of Education indicating they have opened their own private home-based school. The state requires home-schooling parents to be capable of teaching and provide all curriculum and instructional materials.
While home-schooling and the public charter school are no or low cost alternatives to CUSD, several of the private schools have tuition over $20,000.
All CUSD schools returned to some in-person learning, for those that opted in, on February 1, 2021, the start of the Spring 2021 semester. CUSD plans to expand the number of students on campus over the next weeks with a goal of all students returning full time to campus during the current school year.
CUSD is currently planning a summer school program for summer 2021. CUSD hopes the summer program would encourage both new and former students to enroll at CUSD for the summer and the following 2021-2022 school year.