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Sarasota County School Board voted to say students must wear masks in class.  

SARASOTA — The Sarasota County School District anticipates a drop of 1,830 students returning to brick-and-mortar school this year.

That number may change as the first day of school approaches.

The main change the district is in elementary enrollment, particularly at the kindergarten level. Last year at this time, there were 2,535 students enrolled in kindergarten. For the upcoming year, so far 1,468 students are enrolled in kindergarten, a drop of 1,067.

The kindergarten numbers were troubling to at least one board member.

“It’s hard to send your kids to kindergarten to begin with — let alone to send them into the cesspool of COVID that parents are all worried about,” School Board member Shirley Brown said during Tuesday’s meeting.

District’s interim Superintendent Mitsi Corcoran told the Sun in an email Tuesday that one factor could be that schools could not hold annual spring kindergarten roundups since facilities started closing in March. Those events, Corcoran said, allow parents to go through orientation and register for school.

Administrators projected the number of kindergarten students could go up by about 100 or more because of the lack of signup events.

Corcoran said the district has attempted to reach out to families who have students entering kindergarten. The problem is, there are a lot of families the district does not know, since this could be the first student in the family to enter school.

“We’re just not sure if it is a decline in enrollment due to COVID-19 and parents choosing to keep their child home an additional year, or if it is because parents do not know that they need to register their student with the school before the first day,” Corcoran said.

District spokesperson Kelsey Whealy said there is no way for the district to know where the kindergartners who didn’t choose traditional public school are going. Whealy said some students could be attending charter school or home education, but the district would only be able to tell after initial enrollment counts are in, once school has began.

At this time, there are currently 516 students registered for virtual school, a huge jump from the 34 students enrolled the year prior. A total of 1,142 students were home-schooled last year, while this year the number is currently at 1,622.

There is no deadline for families to choose to return to brick-and-mortar school, versus remote learning, Whealy said.

However, for planning purposes, schools need to know what families decide as soon as possible.

Corcoran said the district has seen an increase in home school requests and virtual school registrations. She added there could still be some confusion between virtual school and remote learning, and the district may see some students return to schools to do remote learning after the first few weeks of school.

The district’s project loss in students returning to school will equate to the district losing out on an estimated $7.4 million from the Florida Education Finance Program, if they are not funded at last year’s levels. Florida Education Finance Program is determined by the number of students participating in an educational program.

The next school board meeting will be Aug. 18.

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