NYC School Enrollment Rates Suffer Due to Parents’ Fears


NYC public school enrollment has declined by 1.9% this year. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Since schools were forced to switch over to remote learning in March 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, school attendance has suffered greatly. As the pandemic began to die down, it seemed only logical that both attendance and enrollment in public schools would increase, with the threat of COVID-19 somewhat at bay. However, this has not been the case, as public school enrollment in NYC has gone down by around fifty thousand students since the start of the pandemic. This decline has continued into 2021, with a 1.9% decrease in enrollment compared to pre-pandemic years. The cause of this decline is clear: people are still living in fear and have grown accustomed to the new way of pandemic living.

Of course, there are multiple, individualized reasons each student may have for choosing not to re-enroll in school, but I believe fear is by far the most prevalent. As children were herded into their homes with strict orders to stay inside, an air of fear overtook NYC students. They feared for their lives, as well as for the lives of their friends and families, and were willing to do whatever it took to keep people safe. 

This fear, unlike the potency of the pandemic, has not died down. Even now with vaccines available, parents and kids alike are still fear-stricken by the deadly disease. New York students are not prepared to move forward yet. Collectively, NYC suffered a trauma that is still far from being healed, which offers insight as to why so many families continue to withdraw from society.

Humans are creatures of habit, and the habits people formed during the pandemic are no exception. Many of those who turned to homeschooling during the height of the pandemic have come to enjoy the freedom it provides. As a result, they have not found the need to return to their old scholastic structure. Parents see the value of private homeschooling as well, since it gives them ample time to focus on their children while simultaneously ensuring their safety from exposure to the virus.

Another possible factor, although much less likely in my opinion, is that many families that once resided in NYC have moved away from their homes and to the suburbs. After having been cooped up in their apartments for so long, a lot of families headed toward more residential areas in order to spread out and be further away from people in an effort to protect their families. It is possible that a lot of these families that fled to adjacent states like New Jersey and Connecticut enjoyed suburban life so much that they decided to leave NYC behind. Though this is definitely possible for some families, I don’t believe this is the driving force behind the lower enrollment rates. As a New Jersey resident myself, I know of many native New Yorkers that fled to my town during the height of the pandemic, but they were quick to return to NYC once the restrictions were lifted. To them, residential areas were nothing more than a quick escape and by no means a permanent fixture.

While we have come a long way since the horrors of last year, many still have a cause for concern in regards to the health of their children. Vaccines have been a great step toward allowing the fear to dissipate, but as breakthrough cases continue to occur, parents are keeping their guards up. If NYC educators really want the public school enrollment rates to return to pre-pandemic rates, NYC needs to do the same and return to its pre-pandemic state.

Breakthrough cases will need to be nothing more than an old-timey anecdote and masks will need to be a thing of the past before parents have enough trust in the public school system to send their children back. Enrollment rates will continue to suffer until New Yorkers see the end of the pandemic’s lingering restrictions.

Carolyn Branigan, FCRH ’24, is a film and English major from Tinton Falls, N.J.