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NYC residents escaping virus may boost East End school enrollment

Administrators at the Ross School in East Hampton

Administrators at the Ross School in East Hampton said 20 families had enrolled their children in the private K-12 school to avoid living in New York City the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Stephanie Craig

New York City families looking to make the East End their year-round address amid the COVID-19 pandemic could mean an enrollment bump at local schools, particularly private institutions.

City dwellers have taken to the East End since lockdown began in March and are telling school administrators they may not return. It is not clear if in-person learning will resume come September although Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Thursday schools should prepare to be open in September.

Still, about 20 families had enrolled their children at the private and nonprofit K-12 Ross School in East Hampton as of Thursday , said head of advancement and operations Andi O’Hearn.

It’s not a decision parents take lightly considering the competitiveness of New York City private schools. But questions over safety in the city and new information regarding an inflammatory syndrome possibly linked to COVID-19 infecting children has some mothers and fathers on high alert, O’Hearn said.

“My heart breaks for these families, you know how hard it is to get into schools in the city,” she said. “They are giving up their spots to come out here. I’m sorry that it’s not sort of by choice.”

O’Hearn said the school — where annual tuition ranges from $22,700 to $45,000 per student, not including boarding — experienced an enrollment bump when people decided to leave the city after 9/11. The shift occurred much quicker following the terrorist attacks and the numbers gradually declined in the ensuing years. The current increase has mostly been in elementary school students and the number could grow larger as September nears, she said.

“I think parents are trying to wait until the last minute because they are hoping they can go back to the city,” she said.

The school, however, expects a decline in the number of students boarding on the campus from about 150 to 100, she said.

About a dozen families have expressed interest in attending Peconic Community School in Aquebogue, which has 55 students and offers a project-based curriculum for those in pre-K through grade 7.

“A lot of them were at progressive schools like ours in the city and they’re looking for something similar out here,” said co-director Liz Casey Searl.

It’s less certain if the increase will remain when there is a vaccine for the virus and people feel comfortable in large crowds again, both O’Hearn and Searl said.

“One of the things we’re wondering is if this urban flight will be temporary or more long-term,” Searl said. “We’re hearing different things from different families.”

School interest has not been limited to private schools.

Officials in the East Hampton Union Free School District and the Sagaponack Common School District said there had been a handful of inquiries, but no additional enrollment. Springs School District Superintendent Debra Winter said the district had not seen an increased interest and Southampton Union Free School District was not expecting an expansion this fall.

“We have not experienced an increase in projected enrollment for fall 2020, but will continue to monitor these figures in the coming months,” Southampton Superintendent Nicholas Dyno said in a statement. “The district will be prepared to best service our students and meet all of their educational needs.”

Interest in East End schools amid the coronavirus outbreak

The Ross School

Enrollment: 372 students in grades K-12

New enrollment: 20

Peconic Community School

Enrollment: 55 students in pre-K-7

New applications and inquiries: 12

Sagaponack Common School District

Enrollment: 15 students in the K-3 school

New inquiries: 4

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