EL PASO, Texas -- One year into the Covid-19 pandemic, schools are welcoming students back into the classroom.
The last day El Paso Independent School District schools were at full capacity was March 13, 2020. In the days to come, EPISD moved to transition its nearly 55,000 students to virtual instruction.
A transition some parents, especially with younger children, would soon find challenging.
"I think my daughter was kind of like, 'oh cool,' I get to stay home, you know, and not have to wake up so early...and then, you know, that kind of wore off really fast," said Shelia Droutsas.
Droutsas has a 7-year-old daughter who's now a second grade student at Western Hills Elementary. Droutsas said her daughter's grades started to drop and now she's having trouble reading.
“It's such a hard decision because you know they're suffering academically here, at home and socially and emotionally and, and even physically, but then the fear of, you know, they go back and you get (Covid-19) and all that.”
Sheila's concerns are something parents across the county are facing. According to a recent poll by the Associated Press, most parents who were surveyed are worried that a return back to the classroom will cause a spike in Covid-19 cases, but the fear of having their child fall behind academically is even greater.
Droutsas's daughter is now back in school and is "happier," despite only having three classmates in the building with her.
According to EPISD, on March 10, 29 percent of it's students returned to face-to-face instruction. 59 percent remained remote, something it anticipated.
The district said its elementary schools have a higher rate of kids back, about 38 percent. Schools in the military feeder pattern near Fort Bliss and in areas with higher household incomes also have more kids back in the classroom.
However, a higher rate of students are being marked absent. The district is seeing an enrollment rate up 88 percent compared to 92 to 93 percent before Covid-19.
When asked if virtual learning made it harder to keep tabs on students, spokeswoman for EPISD, Melissa Martinez said, "there are segments of students that we don't know where they are and that is concerning for us."
Enrollment is also sinking. On March 10, 2020, EPISD said 54,784 students were enrolled. The same time this year, 50,752 students were enrolled. EPISD said some families moved out of the district due to financial crisis, other parents began homeschooling.
Martinez said Pre-K enrollment took the biggest hit for the district. "We saw a lot of different reasons and we're hoping, we expect them to all come back once we're fully operational.”
EPISD said based off survey responses it anticipates a majority of it's students will likely finish out the school year from home.
As for funding, the Texas Education Agency will fund school districts using enrollment numbers before they were impacted by the pandemic.
“I think everybody in general is going to come out of (this), with hopefully a little bit more understanding and compassion and grace for each other and we are able to welcome everybody back," Martinez said.