Bozeman High File

Two students leave Bozeman High School for lunch on March 30.

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Enrollment at many Gallatin County public elementary districts this year showed a slow recovery from the dip they saw last year.

The enrollment numbers, collected on Oct. 4 by the Gallatin County Superintendent of Schools’ office, show a decrease in home school students from the record high reported last year while many public and private schools reported increased student enrollment.

“I think we still haven’t settled down to where it’s going to be,” Gallatin County Superintendent of Schools Matthew Henry said. “We may not have a clear idea of what things might do in a year or two.”

The 2020-2021school year saw public elementary school districts report some of the most significant decreases in enrollment compared to pre-pandemic years.

But the October count this year saw six of the county’s 16 elementary districts report enrollment higher than their pre-pandemic numbers in 2019-2020, recovering from any declines the previous year. Those schools include Manhattan, Monforton, Amsterdam, Cottonwood, Anderson and Big Sky.

Cottonwood, Anderson and Big Sky elementary schools also reported slight increases through the pandemic from 2019-2020 to 2020-2021.

“I think last year people were gravitating towards some of these smaller, rural school districts,” Henry said, adding he was speculating. “… Maybe last year there was a migration from the larger school districts where they were remaining virtual.”

Both Bozeman and Belgrade elementary districts saw an increase from the slide in enrollments they experienced last school year but remained below their pre-pandemic enrollment levels.

“I would say that phenomenon typifies Bozeman and Belgrade, the larger districts,” Henry said.

For example, in the 2019-2020 school year, Bozeman elementary district reported 4,851 enrolled students. After it’s elementary enrollment declined by 382 students last year — or about 8% — it reported 4,708 students this October, an increase of 239 students but still about 3% below what it reported the school year before the pandemic.

Despite not reaching pre-pandemic elementary district enrollment, Bozeman’s total K-12 enrollment still grew with 7,217 students reported this school year, 346 more students than it reported last year — an increase of about 5% — and 105 more than in 2019-2020.

The increase was largely due to the growth Bozeman saw at its high schools.

Bozeman’s high school district has been on a steady increase for the past decade and didn’t see a dip in enrollment during the first year of the pandemic. Enrollment at its two high schools now stands at 2,509, an increase of about 107 students — or about 4.5% — from the previous school year.

Overall, the public high school district enrollments faired better last year than the elementary school districts. This trend was reflected in this year’s numbers, which saw most of the Gallatin County’s seven public high school districts surpass their enrollment from the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years.

“All of the high school districts, with the exception of two, have exceeded the levels of their pre-COVID levels,” Henry said.

When looking at the county’s enrollment numbers, Henry said it’s important to consider the private schools in the area, including home school students.

While the number of Gallatin County K-12 home school students decreased from the 1,356 students of last school year by about 30%, it remained higher than any of the pre-pandemic counts at 956. The 2019-2020 school year had 720 reported K-12 students home schooling.

Manhattan Christian School, Heritage Christian School and Petra Academy reported the highest private school PK-12 enrollments with 285, 236 and 213, respectively. Heritage had the highest growth in students from the previous year with 45 new students.

“While some of (the home school students) may have returned to their public school districts, a fair amount of them might have gone to private schools,” Henry said of elementary students.

The population growth in Gallatin County is also seen in its K-12 student enrollments. Total students in public and private schools this year grew by 2%, or 325 students, to 16,607 students.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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