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Some Milwaukee-area private schools see a bump in enrollment during COVID

Students in classroom at desks learning
Posted at 8:47 AM, Feb 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-16 23:28:15-05

MILWAUKEE — A bit of an enrollment bump is happening at some Milwaukee-area private schools. That as some parents looked for face-to-face learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The school year looks different for everyone during pandemic. But for some families, the change or the potential to change from in-person classes to virtual didn’t work.

“I have a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old and virtual school, no matter where you are and what your program is, it is just not beneficial to them at that age,” said Rebecca Domnitz, a mom of two boys.

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Rebecca Domnitz's two boys who now attend Milwaukee Jewish Day School.

Domnitz and her family switched from attending public school in Mequon to the Milwaukee Jewish Day School. Domnitz says even before COVID, they considered making the move, but the uncertainty of the pandemic pushed them to it.

“Initially Mequon-Thiensville had said based on the community spread they were going to shut the school down, and you know, we had to be prepared for that, like on a day-to-day basis and we just couldn't manage that, with our schedule,” said Domnitz.

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Both Domnitz and her husband work in-person and did not have another child care option while her children went to school. So they decided the private day school was their best choice. It is something private schools say they can provide and their families wanted.

Rebecca Domnitz
Rebecca Domnitz switched her children to private school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Parents are looking for a situation they can rely on, every day. They can trust they can drop their students off and pick them up every day,” said Sharon Koenings who is the head of school at Brookfield Academy.

This school year, the Milwaukee Jewish Day School has had new students enrolling in every grade. That translates to a 20-percent increase in enrollment. At St. Robert’s School in Shorewood, they also saw a 20-percent bump.

While some private schools' numbers went up, public schools across the state saw the opposition. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction reported 818,922 students were enrolled in public school during the 2020-2021 school year. That is down from 844,154 students in the 2019-2020 school year. That is a three-percent drop in enrollment. Not a surprise to the past president of School Choice Wisconsin Jim Bender.

Students in classroom at desks learning
File photo

“For private school enrollment, in particular, in areas where the public district has been closed to in-person instruction and the private school has been open, those have been the most dramatic increases that we've seen or the at least the increase in demand,” said Bender.

According to Bender, not every private school is seeing increases in enrollment. There have been drops in some especially private schools that have a lot of younger students.

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File photo of virtual classroom

“Your K4 and K5 and very young children that enrollment is down across the state, just because I think its parent concern about really young children,” said Bender.

Brookfield Academy saw a four-percent decrease in enrollment this year. But they also gained some new students. Phil Prange of Madison got creative to make sure his daughter was able to go to in-person classes.

“Every morning we get up, on the road around 6:30, we drive 62 miles to Brookfield Academy. My wife or I will wait, find a place to work during the day and then every afternoon we drive back there 62 miles so,” said Prange.

Phil Prange
Phil Prange drives his daughter from Madison to Brookfield Academy in Brookfield, Wis. so she can attend in-person school.

He moved his daughter to Brookfield Academy from another private school because he was worried the other school would be virtual. Now it is a move that will likely become permanent for the family.

“We very much love Brookfield Academy and we're looking at houses in the area,” said Prange.

The official enrollment numbers for private schools for the 2020-2021 school year have not yet been reported to the state. They are expected to come in March.

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