Pandemic creates student count challenges for Lansing School District

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Lansing School District’s official count of students grew more than 7% from spring to fall, district officials said, turning around a decrease in students attributed to the pandemic and online learning.

But the pandemic, competition with other districts and other factors are still leading potentially hundreds of students to briefly enroll in Lansing schools before disappearing. 

The official student count indicates the number of students who physically show up to school, and is nearly always lower than enrollment at the beginning of a given semester.

However, the gap between the number of students who enroll in Lansing schools and the count has dramatically widened since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Nov. 4, Superintendent Benjamin Shuldiner said at a school board meeting that he expected the district’s official student count this fall to be between 9,850 to 9,900, up from 9,437.16 in fall 2020. 

The district enrolled 10,190 students for fall 2021, district officials said — an estimated gap of 290 from the official semester count. While this is an improvement from fall 2020’s gap of 633.84, it’s still up from fall 2019’s 70.49.

“You’ll see there’s a big discrepancy, and you’ll see how that has widened through our time for COVID,” Chief of Staff Kristina Tokar said at the Nov. 4 meeting. “A lot of work goes into getting those lines as close as possible.”

Schuldiner said after the meeting that the reasons for these low numbers are varied. Most of them stem from the pandemic and the changes it’s brought.

“We were one of the only school districts to never go back to all face-to-face all of last year. It’s just a much more difficult way to count kids,” Schuldiner said. “A lot of families also red-shirted their kids — kindergarten kids that would’ve gone, (the parents) didn’t bring them to school.”

He said the 2020-2021 school year isn’t representative of the school district’s numbers going forward.

“It is anomalous for a million reasons. So that kind of drop in the count, we are chalking that up to COVID, to online,” Schuldiner said.

While not directly tied to the count, some board members and parents said the enrollment process for Lansing School District has become harder to navigate.

After the count day presentation, school board member Nino Rodríguez brought up complaints from Lansing parents about difficulties enrolling in schools throughout the district. 

“(It) has been for them a little bit difficult. They are not sure if they had to enroll every year regardless if they are in one school or they go to another school,” Rodríguez said.

After the meeting, Rodríguez said the district’s online enrollment system is too complicated for some parents.

Lansing parent Kelia Gabriel said she prefers the old process of going directly to the office secretary to enroll students, and believes having an online-only enrollment system may be disadvantageous to some parents.

“You can only access everything through ParentVUE,” Gabriel said. “And there are probably a fair number of families that maybe don’t have easy access to computers.”

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