Columbus Elementary School sees 28 students transition to homeschool

School numbers drop statewide
Thursday, December 3, 2020
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School enrollment has declined this year while home schooling has spiked in Montana.

Every October and February, the Office of Public Instruction (OPI) collects enrollment data from school districts across the state. On Nov. 25, OPI released the fall 2020 data, which likely reflects impacts from COVID-19.

Public elementary school enrollment dropped by 3.8 percent in grades kindergarten to eighth grade. Private schools saw a decrease of 9 percent or 708 fewer students enrolled. Cumulatively, public school enrollment has decreased by 1.8 percent.

“That translates to 2,749 fewer students enrolled in public schools statewide,” OPI officials said in a press release.

A spike in homeschooling explains the public school decrease, and may provide some insight into how parents and students are handling changes caused by the pandemic.

The homeschool population increased by 62 percent adding 3,639 students this fall, according to OPI.

OPI spokesperson Dylan Klapmeier said the decrease in enrollment is largely due to parents of elementary age students switching to homeschooling due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Anecdotally, we have heard from parents that elementary students are having a more difficult time adapting to things like distance learning,” Klapmeier told the News.

However, high school students seem to have faired better. High schools across the state have seen an increase of 2.1 percent in enrollment.

School funding is based on a three-year average of enrollment numbers. Whether or not elementary students will re-enroll in public school in the spring or by next year will determine the future of government funding.

Klapmeier said conversations with lawmakers are in the preliminary stages, but OPI is seeking legislative solutions.

Decrease in enrollment has been evenly distributed across the state minimizing impacts on individual districts, according to Klapmeier.


Smaller districts have faired the home schooling switch better than the Columbus school district.

    Elementary age students disappeared from Columbus schools with 28 losses in grades kindergarten to fifth grade, all switching to a home-school setting, according to Columbus Superintendent Jeff Bermes. Three high school students and two middle school students switched to homeschooling.

    “To answer your question, is enrollment down this year – yes,” Bermes told the News.

    Park City Superintendent Dan Grabowska said eight or nine of his students switched to homeschool, but he had some homeschoolers utilize remote learning.

    “We might have seen a net loss of four or five kids,” Grabowska said.

    Reed Point school district gained students this fall, according to Superintendent Heather Jarrett. The district gained 15 students, brining the enrollment total to 69 kids that span from kindergarten to twelfth grade.

    Absarokee High School Principle Tim Zumbrun said that the district’s enrollment did decrease this year, but it wasn’t due to COVID-19.

    “It is due to attrition with larger classes graduating in recent years and small numbers of students entering kindergarten,” Zumbrun said.

    Last year, 26 seniors graduated with the class of 2020 and only nine new students enrolled in kindergarten.

    Currently, 184 students attend Absarokee schools.

    Rapelje Superintendent Dennis Gerke said enrollment has floated between 60 and 70 students in the last three years. Next year, Gerke expects to drop to 58 students due to fluctuations in graduating seniors and incoming freshman and kindergartners.

    No Rapelje students switched to homeschooling, according to Gerke.