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Private Schools See Increased Interest During Pandemic

School building
One of seven outdoor learning sites at the Richmond Waldorf School. (Photo: David Streever/VPM News)

With most Virginia public school districts offering only virtual learning during the pandemic, private schools with in-person options say they’re seeing increased interest from parents. 

A majority of private schools in Virginia opened in person, according to the Virginia Council for Private Education, an advocacy group that represents their interests and was tasked with overseeing their health and safety standards.

Kelly Lazzara is the superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Richmond. She says parent inquiries grew this year by 65 percent. However, she says student enrollment has not grown.

“While we’ve seen an increase [in interest], we also have capacity limitations in our schools in order for us to be able to meet our own distancing requirements, so as a whole, enrollment is actually down,” Lazzara said.

She said Virginia Catholic schools currently have over 350 students on waiting lists. The Richmond Waldorf School, a private school that is currently operating at half its normal capacity, has seen similar trends.

“We've never really had the kind of waitlist that we do have. We have several folks on a waitlist now, whereas in the past, we maybe had one or two,” said Valerie Hogan, the school’s marketing and enrollment coordinator. 

As interest in private education increases, public schools in Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield, which are undergoing virtual learning, have reported dips in their student enrollment numbers.

“I've certainly seen a big influx of folks from the public schools, particularly younger -- kindergarten, first, second, third graders -- who are really struggling with online learning and need that physical in person interaction,” Hogan said.

She says no COVID-19 cases have been reported at the Richmond Waldorf School. In Virginia’s Catholic schools, Lazzara says two staff members out of 1,300 have tested positive, and both cases were contracted outside of the schools.

She says all Catholic schools follow the same health and safety guidelines, which include at least three feet of physical distance, health screenings and daily sanitation of school facilities.

“There are safety questions that all faculty, staff and visitors must answer before entering the building. And then all individuals, students, visitors, teachers, anyone coming into the building, must have their temperature checked before entering the building,” Lazzara said.

Hogan says the Richmond Waldorf School follows similar health and safety procedures, requiring students to wear a mask and maintain three feet of social distance. She says the school has also implemented outdoors learning, with seven new spaces for teaching outside. Waldorf also offers the option of online classes.

According to the VCPE, the number of students currently enrolled for Virginia private schools will not be available until November. That number was at around 110,000 for the 2019-2020 school year. 

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