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Growing concern over kids skipping kindergarten during pandemic

Local school districts report a sharp decline in enrollment during the recent school year.

SAN DIEGO — As school districts all over the county continue to work on reopening plans, concern is growing over children who are skipping kindergarten. Some districts in California, where kindergarten isn't mandatory, have reported a sharp decline in enrollment.

With the pandemic and virtual learning, a lot of families are choosing to opt-out.

Holly Amaya has two kids: a second-grader, and a four-year-old, scheduled to start kindergarten this fall. "People are just trying to find what works for them," Amaya said.

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Her hope is by then, San Diego Unified will be offering in-person classes. But with so much uncertainty, she's looking into alternatives just in case.

“Kind of all of the options have been on the table for us. We thought we'll apply in charters that are in person. We've looked at parochial schools. We've looked at private schools,” she said.

While Holly is doing everything she can to ensure her daughter will have a normal kindergarten experience, other families are forgoing it altogether.

As of mid-September, San Diego Unified reported an overall enrollment of 100,348 students, more than 2,400 below the projection issued pre-pandemic.

1,682 of those students represent the transitional kindergarten or kindergarten grade levels, or about two out of three of all unenrolled students.

The state's largest district, Los Angeles Unified, reported losing 6,000 kindergarten students.

Poway Unified saw its biggest enrollment drop this year in kindergarten as well, with 147 fewer students compared to last year.

“We've seen a lot of school districts facing the same problem with drops in enrollment,” Poway Unified spokesperson Christine Paik said.

Paik believes that number would be more if not for the homeschool program Poway Unified offers. “And so because we had that option for families who did not choose in-person or virtual, we actually were able to keep a lot of our Poway Unified Students especially the younger ages," she said. "And so our homeschool program went from 3 dozen families enrolled in a normal year to a thousand.”

While Poway Unified does offer in-person classes, Paik acknowledges starting kindergarten in virtual or hybrid settings isn't ideal. Yet she and experts agree it's better than skipping it altogether.

Paik said, “The importance of kindergarten is really not just the academic portion where they're learning their words and their numbers, but the socialization process.”

Experts worry without kindergarten, first grade will be very challenging for some kids.

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