BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The end of the 2019-2020 school year was hard for so many Western New York families as many districts moved to virtual learning as the pandemic hit.
When the school year began in fall of 2020, many larger districts shifted to virtual or hybrid schedules because they weren't able to properly socially distance with all students in the classroom at the same time.
The Orchard Park School District began the 2019-2020 school year with 4,642 students. The following fall, 4,399 students were enrolled in the district, and the projected enrollment for the upcoming school year is 4,532.
The Williamsville Central School District began the 2019-2020 school year with 9,913 students. By fall 2020, the district had lost 329 students, and had an enrollment of 9,584 students. The projected enrollment for this school year is 9,630 students.
Both districts are seeing students begin to return for the start of this school year, but some parents say they've decided to keep their kids in private schools. They say they want their students to be in the classroom, and they're concerned that public schools may not be able to maintain full in-school weeks for kids if COVID-19 cases increase.
The Franjoine family from Orchard Park moved their 11-year-old twins from the Orchard Park District to Nativity of Our Lord, and decided to keep them there this year. Their father Tony Franjoine says virtual learning at the end of the 2019-2020 school year pushed the family to make a change.
"It was really difficult. Because we had to be a parent to three all day, and work all day, and for the better part of the day be the teacher," he explained. "Nativity was in school five days a week. In-person instruction was important to us. The boys really benefit from the structure of being in a classroom setting," he said.
Jamie Kelly had three students in the Williamsville School District, but decided to switch her kids to Nichols School. She says she decided to keep her kids there for this year as well.
"We decided to stay because again, there's still much uncertainty, unrest about the variant, about mask mandates," she explained.
Nichols School leaders say the school has seen an enrollment increase since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the 2019-2020 school year, the school had 525 students. Last year enrollment increased to 567 students, and this upcoming year 591 students are enrolled in the district. That's more than a 12% increase.
The Franjoine kids say they're excited to be back in the classroom again this year, and that it made a difference for them as they were learning.
"I liked going to school better because it was easier to learn hard things for me because I could go up and ask the teacher," explained 11-year-old Willie.
"If you missed something in virtual learning you couldn't get it back," echoed his brother Tony.
Both families say this was the right decision for them, although Kelly points out that they understand they're fortunate that they're able to make choices on education.
"It's hard. People have the choice to transfer, but some people don't have that choice. And I just hope the education isn't going to be affected," she said.