Enrollment, Staffing Continue Precipitous Drop in Virginia Public Schools

People hold up signs during a rally against "critical race theory" (CRT) being taught in s

Enrollment and staffing have continued their precipitous decline across Virginia’s public school systems, as unfilled education positions have increased 62 percent and parents seek alternatives for their children.

All of Virginia’s 132 school districts have returned to full-time learning, but according to the Virginia Mercury, teachers are facing many issues, including having to work through the repercussions of developmentally stunting children during draconian lockdown measures taken as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

John Reaves, a high school English teacher in Henrico County, told the Mercury that students are facing losses in education, but perhaps more importantly, social development. “I want these kids to be ready for college, but sometimes they’ve got to get a little more comfortable with just being around people,” he explained. Calling them “soft skills,” Reaves said that sometimes “those should take precedence, and that puts a real strain on your responsibilities as someone trying to administer a curriculum.”

Indeed, according to the Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, school-aged children “have experienced a major disruption in their lives, including disruptions to academic structure, participation in activities, peer interactions, lifestyle, and overall physical and emotional health” due to the coronavirus policies. The report explained that of pediatric providers, 98 percent reported increased anxiety among patients, 95 percent reported an increase in depression, and “even more concerning” is the 58 percent increase in suicidal ideation among children and adolescents.

But student development issues are not the only factor contributing to staffing shortages in Virginia. In fact, it appears that staffing shortages themselves may be exacerbating an even greater shortage to come, as teachers report feeling spread too thin and districts are often unable to find substitutes to fill in.

Reaves told the Mercury that “the general feeling is that many people are at least thinking about career switching … It’s just been a lot to keep track of and a lot to be responsible for.” Indeed, the extra work teachers must do to cover for the staffing shortages may be a factor driving teachers from the profession.

According to 13NewsNow, Virginia Beach has seen administrators and other staff fill in as substitutes. Virginia Beach City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence himself filled in as a substitute, as “one of hundreds … helping to tackle substitute shortages.”

“We made a decision to have all of our central support staff with instructional licenses to go out and support our schools by substituting in the classrooms and as administrators,” Spence said of the staffing shortages, explaining that non-licensed staff are filling in in other capacities. “We have folks filling in as custodians, clerical staff.”

Fairfax County has reported a similar issue, according to WUSA9, only achieving a 71 percent substitute fill rate. According to a spokesperson for the school district, mitigation factors include “looking to increase substitute pay to encourage retirees, stay-at-home parents, and college students to become subs.”

Student enrollment is also decreasing across the Commonwealth, according to the Virginia Department of Education. Overall, enrollment has fallen by more than 46,000 students since 2019, a nearly four percent drop since the beginning of the coronavirus.

According to WTOP, Fairfax County — the Commonwealth’s largest school district — has seen the largest drop in enrollment at more than 10,000 students, representing a 5.4 percent decline. Meanwhile, Richmond Public Schools saw 4,000 students leave their rosters, a 16 percent decline. Public school enrollment has dropped in 111 of 132 districts.

At the same time, homeschooling and private schooling rates have skyrocketed, with homeschooling increasing 40 percent. The Virginia Department of Education does not keep track of private school attendance, but many private schools are reporting increased application rates — particularly from public school students.

According to Virginia Business, private schools are seeing higher enrollment because families are “seeking more stability for children who have had their education disrupted by remote and hybrid learning over the past 20 months.”

The Catholic Diocese of Arlington’s schools have increased enrollment over six percent and the Steward School says it has had a 20-30 percent increase in application inquiries. In fact, many private schools are also reporting longer waitlists and higher rates of having to turn down students due to capacity restrictions.

While many statewide officials blame pandemic restrictions for the declines, Virginia’s education system has also been the epicenter of political debate over critical race theory and transgender policies taking place across the country. Becoming a dark horse issue for Democrats in the 2021 gubernatorial contest, many believe Republican Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin’s win can be attributed primarily to the education issue.

Breccan F. Thies is a reporter for Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @BreccanFThies.


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