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For The First Time, CMS Has More Hispanic Students Than White Students

Students at Oakdale Elementary School in 2019, before the coronavirus sent students into remote learning.
Ann Doss Helms
Students at Oakdale Elementary School in 2019, before the coronavirus sent students into remote learning.

In a sign of Charlotte's growing diversity and the upheaval created by the coronavirus pandemic, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has more Hispanic than white students for the first time.

A new diversity report shows CMS is now 36.7% Black, 27.2% Hispanic, 25.8% white and 7.3% Asian. Last year white students slightly outnumbered Hispanic counterparts, with each at roughly 27% of enrollment.

The report also shows that CMS lost even more students this year than the district had previously reported. This year's total is 140,073, down 4.6% from last year's 146,887.

A comparison with last year's diversity report shows CMS lost 3,316 white students, 1,586 Black students and 1,051 Hispanic students. Asian enrollment is up by 25 students.

Pandemic And Other Trends

Many North Carolina school districts had been losing enrollment over the last several years as birth rates leveled off and charter schools expanded. CMS had seen virtually flat enrollment for the past three years with a very small downward trend.

And for years, the growing Hispanic population is what kept CMS from seeing bigger losses.

The role of the pandemic is unclear, but districts across the country are seeing enrollment plunge this year, especially among kindergarteners. In North Carolina, attendance isn't mandatory for 5-year-olds. Educators and parents say some families are opting to delay a year in hopes of having children start school in a more normal environment.

Hedy Chang, executive director of the national group Attendance Works, said the disruption of normal schedules and the widespread shift to remote learning exacerbates the problem of students who are missing too much school to learn.

"Enrollment figures are going down. There are kids that aren't even in our systems, that are losing out on learning time but they're not actually enrolled anywhere," Chang recently told a group of education reporters. "I think we've not seen that before. That is new, and that is a consequence of COVID."

Myers Park Is Biggest

CMS also posted school enrollment numbers. Myers Park High remains the largest in the district — and almost certainly in the state — with 3,593 students. Ardrey Kell High, with 3,437 students, and South Mecklenburg High, with 3,202, are next.

Community House Middle is the largest middle school, with 1,725. Elon Park is the largest elementary school with 960.

Schools won't have that many students at once as CMS brings back in-person classes. Some families have opted for full remote classes for at least the first semester, and students will be divided into groups of two or three for rotating attendance to allow for safe distancing.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.