September 13, 2008

Irving ISD enrollment has grown despite worries of a decrease

By KATHERINE LEAL UNMUTH / The Dallas Morning News

Irving school enrollment appears to be growing slightly instead of taking a hit as officials had feared.

Last year, the school district suddenly began losing hundreds of students at the end of September, after the deportation of illegal immigrants arrested by local police frightened residents.

Several substandard apartment complexes were also shut down by the city, prompting families to move.

Though the city's Criminal Alien Program and crackdown on code enforcement continue, school enrollment appears to be strong.

Officials counted 33,183 students on Friday, the 14th day of class. That's 35 more students than on the same day last year. District officials had predicted a peak enrollment of 32,764 this year, and a loss of about 425 students.

"I think those worries proved to be unfounded," school board president Jerry Christian said. "If kids left, somebody came in to take their place."

The school district always compares its peak enrollment, the point of highest enrollment, which usually happens within the first six weeks of school. The current enrollment is almost equal to last year's high.

The district's peak last year, which occurred on Sept. 25, was 33,189 students. Shortly after, enrollment quickly dropped. At the time, Superintendent Jack Singley expressed concerns that parents were pulling their children out of schools because of fears about immigration enforcement.

"People just picked up and left the district because they had concerns about what was going on at the city level," said Whit Johnstone, the district's director of planning, evaluation and research.

Officials cautioned that it's still early in the year and enrollment trends are still shifting. But so far the district is gaining a lot of older students. There are about 433 more middle- and high-school students than predicted, while there are 15 fewer elementary students.

Irving officials continue to focus on substandard complexes where many of the district's students live. The week before school started, they shut down the Vista Del Lago apartments.

But school officials worked to make sure homeless students could continue to attend nearby John Haley Elementary.

They also believe that some families affected by apartment closures are moving to different school attendance areas within the district.

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Should the Texas State Legislature pass immigration enforcement laws in 2009?