The Investigators: Private school applications spike as public schools go virtual

Updated: Aug. 10, 2020 at 9:43 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Public schools have reduced the number of days children are in an actual classroom or canceled in-person classes completely.

Meanwhile, many area private schools plan to bring students on campus five days a week, and many of those schools have seen a higher number of applications this semester.

“I did not want to home school and I did not want to virtual if I do not have to,” said Collerville parent Kayce Fry.

Fry is an essential worker with a 7-year-old daughter who is going into second grade this year.

“I’m a working mom. My husband works all day every day, and so we can’t be at home to help our children via virtual learning,” she told the Investigators.

Her daughter is zoned for Crosswind Elementary in Collierville where students will attend class on campus two days a week, which wouldn’t work for Fry and her family.

Instead, she enrolled her daughter in a local private school for the 2020-21 school year.

“We wanted her to be in school five days a week so it was really a no-brainer,” she said. “We’re going to put her where they’re going five days a week.”

Many area private schools have seen an increase in inquiries and applications, according to the president of the Memphis Association of Independent Schools.

In an email to the Investigators, Albert Throckmorton writes the increase occurred “after public schools delayed their plans or announced decisions to do all virtual.”

“The pandemic has definitely made us look at how we teach in a different light,” said Caron Swatley, president of Briarcrest Christian School in Eads. “It has also made us look at our building in a different light.”

Swatley says Briarcrest has decreased class sizes to allow for physical distancing. Hallway traffic will also be limited, and the school has placed HEPA air purifiers in each classroom.

According to Swatley, the demand for enrollment has skyrocketed, and they can’t meet that demand.

“The demand has been so good, and we would’ve loved to been able to take other families that approached us, but we could not do that and meet the mitigation strategies that we put in place due to COVID-19,” said Swatley.

Still, there will be more students at Briarcrest this year compared to last.

The association president wrote that private schools “benefit from the ability to pivot quickly if the environment is generally more available and familiar to students at independent schools...and the number of students and type of facilities also make social distancing easier to manage.”

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Briarcrest is prepared to go virtual if a government-mandate forces them to close.

“We will absolutely submit to authority because that is what we’re called to do and we will,” said Swatley.

Fry says she is also prepared for a total shutdown.

“I hope and pray that doesn’t happen,” said Fry. “I want them to be in a school setting and not me trying to help them at home.”

About 18,000 students enrolled in Memphis-area private schools last year, but MAIS does not expect a huge increase this year.

That’s partially due to the social distancing measures many schools have in place and year over year. There’s been a 2% decrease in private school enrollment in Memphis, but the association maintains many of its schools are growing or, at least, holding steady.

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