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Carley Lanich
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Public schools across Indiana are reporting enrollment dips as the coronavirus pandemic draws into its third year.

Call Scott

As schools enter their fifth semester affected by the pandemic, state data collected through this fall shows the extent to which some districts lost students and others rebounded after months of learning disruptions.

Every public district in St. Joseph County saw lower student counts in the first year of the pandemic.

For some, like the South Bend corporation, the loss follows years of declining enrollment. Others, like Mishawaka, have a history of steady enrollment counts, and appear to have recovered quickly.

To better understand trends during the pandemic, The Tribune requested data from the Indiana Department of Education and received average daily membership counts for the past six school years.

Indiana’s average daily membership count is calculated slightly differently from enrollment figures. Average daily membership is determined each semester based on the number of students expected to be in attendance on a statewide count day, most recently Sept. 17.

The figure does not include students who were enrolled at the start of a school year but had not yet reported for class by ADM count day — a concern early in the pandemic as some schools battled chronic absenteeism during periods of remote learning, or as parents considered alternatives such as homeschooling.

A spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Education told The Tribune in an email additional enrollment data would be posted to the department’s website soon.

Average daily membership data shows districts like South Bend, Penn-Harris-Madison, John Glenn, Elkhart and Goshen all counted fewer students this fall than they had before the pandemic — a trend reflected by corporations across the state.

Of Indiana’s 20 largest districts, 16 showed declines between 1% and 5% in the first year of the pandemic. The downward trend continued into the second year of the pandemic for about half of the state’s largest school corporations.

Penn-Harris-Madison, for example, recorded 90 fewer students in its fall 2020 count than it did during fall 2019 — the last semester untouched by the coronavirus pandemic.

P-H-M’s count decreased by another 270 students the next fall, bringing the district to just over 10,900 students. For P-H-M, where enrollment was steadily increasing before the pandemic, losses over the last two years have brought student counts back to where figures sat in fall 2016.

Other smaller districts, like Mishawaka and Concord, are already showing early signs of a rebound. While both districts reported lower counts during the fall 2020 semester — Mishawaka’s total dropped by about 110 students and Concord’s fell by about 50 — the corporations added back nearly identical numbers this fall.

An outlier compared to schools that lost students after the pandemic began, some virtual academies showed growth these last two years.

Indiana Connections Academy, which enrolls students from across the state in its online-only school, counted nearly 4,900 students in fall 2019. A year later, that number grew to 6,700 students — though, the academy saw a decrease slight this year, losing about 400 students.

South Bend schools, which began piloting a K-12 virtual academy last school year, counted more than 400 virtual students this fall, making up just a small fraction of its overall student population.

This article was made available through Hoosier State Press Association.