By Tom Tolen /

Fall enrollment figures would seem to indicate that while a couple of Livingston County school districts have recovered from the dark days of the 2020-21 year, others have not.

Last fall, the full impact of the COVID pandemic on the 2020-21 school year was just being realized and many parents enrolled their children in online programs or home-schooled them to avoid being exposed to the crippling illness. In the enrollment figures for this fall, Howell and Brighton are showing increases while Hartland, Pinckney and Fowlerville are experiencing declines.

The most encouraging enrollment statistics are coming from Howell, where the 2021 fall enrollment total is 6,883, an increase of 189 students over last year’s total of 6,694. Howell Superintendent Erin MacGregor said that the school district has been fortunate to have escaped the adverse enrollment effects attributed to the COVID pandemic. He said, “The past 20 months have been incredibly challenging, (and) many families had to make difficult decisions throughout last school year in relation to educational options for their children.” But MacGregor said he is “pleased that many families have been able to return to the district this school year.”

Brighton also is apparently recovering from the COVID-caused enrollment downturn, and the Brighton Area Schools has experienced a fall enrollment increase of 59 students. This year’s district-wide fall enrollment at 5,837, compared to the 5,778 students enrolled last year. Hartland, Pinckney and Fowlerville, on the other hand, saw declines in enrollment.

Brighton Superintendent Matthew Outlaw said he is pleased that the enrollment decline of last year has reversed course and the student count is back on track for a successful year. The superintendent says that interest in enrolling in the in-person classroom setting this fall was such that Brighton has decided to discontinue the Brighton Virtual Academy. Outlaw said, quote, “We do not have a separate virtual academy this year,” adding that the district now “use(s) Michigan Virtual for students in grades 6 through 12 and the Virtual Learning Academy Consortium, an Oakland Schools partnership, for those below 6th grade.”

In Hartland, fall enrollment went from 5,272 in the fall of 2020 to 5,233 this year — a slight drop of 39 students. That includes the high school — which went from 1,883 last year to 1,793 this fall. Ore Creek Middle School and Farms Intermediate also saw a small decline in enrollment. However, things are looking brighter at the elementary level, where three of the four schools saw an increase and the other building stayed the same. And it’s expected that the other schools’ enrollments will increase in the future when the elementary students advance to the next level.

Pinckney also saw a decline in enrollment for the fall term: Overall, the district has 2,253 students this fall in grades K through 12, compared to 2,317 last fall — a drop of 64 students. The high school is where the biggest drop occurred, with a fall enrollment of 783, down from last fall’s 857 students. Pathfinder, for 7th and 8th graders, and Navigator, which houses grades 4, 5 and 6, are at about the same level as last year while Farley Hill and Country grades K-3 schools were up by 27 students, which Superintendent Rick Todd regards as an indication that things may be turning around.

Fowlerville also is seeing a decline in the student population: Last fall the enrollment count was 2,630, and this year it has dropped by 46 students to 2,584. In Fowlerville as well, COVID has apparently had an adverse effect on enrollment.

All of the figures cited are unaudited, and the audited version, which is compiled by the Livingston Educational Service Agency - the intermediate school district in Livingston County - won’t be available until later in the school year. Some 90% of each school district's state per-pupil aid comes from the fall enrollment count while the other 10% comes from the previous winter's count.