Parents Turn To Homeschooling As Schools Go All-Virtual
Christy Murrell had doubts about the education her teenage son was getting at a public school in Fairfax County, Virginia.
The mother of three, who calls herself “a very hands-on parent,” was struggling to communicate with teachers at Westfield, one of the largest high schools in the state. “We weren’t happy within the county,” she says.
Then, the pandemic broke out, and — like most schools across the country — Westfield switched to a virtual learning model, teaching students entirely from their homes.
For Murrell, it was the last straw.
“When the springtime came around, it was just a big flop,” she says. “They didn’t have the kids turning their cameras on, nothing counted as a grade, there was little to no communication between teachers and parents. It was very hard to figure out what was actually going on.”
So when Fairfax County announced classes would be taught remotely again in the fall, Murrell decided to try something new. She pulled her son out of Westfield, returned his books and school-issued laptop, and filed a notice of intent to homeschool.
Murrell is part of a growing number of parents who, faced with the possibility of an all-virtual school year due to the coronavirus, are opting out of traditional education.
“I’ve always wanted to give homeschooling a try because each of my kids is very different,” she says. “And I felt like this could really speak to both his strengths and weaknesses by being able to craft his academic schedule based on interest, and where he wants to go in life.”
It’s still unclear how many families will switch to homeschooling this fall. Most states won’t release student enrollment data for the fall semester until later this year.
However, the Virginia Department of Education told The Well News it has received an “increased number of calls from the public” about homeschooling requirements since schools closed due to the pandemic this spring.
Other states are experiencing renewed interest in homeschooling. In July, a government site for North Carolina’s non-public education system crashed due to an “overwhelming” number of submissions of notices of intent to establish a homeschool.
“There is a massive number of new families that are going to be homeschooling in the fall,” says Jenny Grove-Bradshaw, founder of Compass Homeschool Enrichment, a company that offers a-la-carte classes for homeschooled children in Northern Virginia.
In the last few months, Grove-Bradshaw says she has received dozens of inquiries about the programs at Compass. “I would describe it as a flood, my phone has been ringing off the hook really since about the middle of June,” she says.
Many parents say they’re skeptical that remote learning, whether at public or private schools, will be an effective replacement for in-person classes, Grove-Bradshaw says.
“The biggest thing that I’m hearing is that parents are not happy with the virtual learning model, particularly for younger children,” she says. “Parents don’t feel that it’s healthy or that their children have the attention span to sit in front of screens.”
Despite the pandemic, Compass plans on offering 130 in-person classes, five days a week, this fall semester. The courses range from exploratory classes for younger children to advanced algebra for high schoolers.
As a safety measure, the company has reduced classroom capacity from 12 to eight people, and will require masks for students and staff.
For Grove-Bradshaw, who homeschools her own children, pulling kids out of public education seems like a wise choice right now. “I think it’s very disappointing that screen time is the best option that the school systems have been able to come up with,” she says. “And I think that’s the number one reason that parents are abandoning public school this year.”
Concerns about the safety of schools during the pandemic may also be contributing to the homeschooling boom. A May study by USA Today and Ipsos found that 59% of U.S. parents were likely to pursue online school or homeschooling if schools resumed in-person classes this fall.
“There is a massive number of new families that are going to be homeschooling in the fall.”Jenny Grove-Bradshaw, founder of Compass Homeschool Enrichment
Between early March and mid-July, the number of Google searches for the term “homeschooling” roughly quadrupled in the U.S., according to data from Google Trends.
Alessa Keener, a member of the Maryland Homeschool Association, says many parents are looking into homeschooling as a temporary solution until a coronavirus vaccine is available.
“For most people it winds up being that they have little faith that much is going to change from the way in which instruction was handled in the springtime,” she says.
Keener encourages parents to take the decision to homeschool seriously, and to check local rules and regulations before withdrawing kids from school. For some students, leaving school could mean losing access to a laptop, teachers, textbooks, and digital learning platforms, she says.
Moreover, Keener warned that schools may be reluctant to accept homeschooling credits in the event that a student wants to re-enter the public system.
“We’re concerned that there are going to be kids who might spend a year doing some really great homeschooling, but the schools might not necessarily accept their credit, and then there’s going to be some very disappointed families,” she says. “These kids might have to wind up repeating certain classes again, which would be horribly unfair, and really unfortunate.”
But for now, Christy Murrell has no plans to take her son back to public school. “Unless something goes catastrophically wrong, this is a long-term solution,” she says.
“I didn’t have the confidence to do it, and think this gave me the confidence to sort of jump off and try. Because I think anything has to be better than what we experienced this spring.”
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