As the nation’s schools grapple with how to reopen this fall amid an ongoing pandemic, an overarching theme regarding the future of education is emerging: more and more parents intend to invoke their prerogative to choose for themselves what’s best for their children.
In polls and in media interviews, these parents are affirming plans to work outside of institutional venues to craft innovative, custom programs to keep their kids safe and learning. In other words, they mean to homeschool.
As Sara Elahi, a consultant in the Baltimore area, told NBC News: “Education is the most important thing to our family. My kids need to have in-person instruction to really learn and absorb material, and, by no fault of their own, I can’t rely on the school to provide that.”
Elahi was alluding to the fact that several of the nation’s largest public school districts have announced that, for the foreseeable future, they will not be opening their classrooms. Instead they will rely primarily on online learning.
For some parents, this is simply not acceptable.
After their school district in Silver Spring, Maryland, switched to distance learning in the spring, Rosemary Murrian told CNN how her family eventually abandoned the method. Not only did her children struggle with the technology, but she and her husband also felt the public school’s schedule did not mesh well with their family’s needs.
“At the end of the second week we just said, ‘forget it, it’s not worth it,’ and stopped,” Rosemary said. “It wasn’t really a tough decision because we just couldn’t do it.”
Then there is the question of safety.
In districts that will be accepting students back on campus, many parents are asking whether the proposed social distancing and health measures will be more disruptive than effective.
Aqueya Langston of Flint, Michigan, expressed these very concerns in an interview with her local television news about her 11-year-old son with asthma.
“I don’t want to send him to school and risk his life or him bringing anything back to us,” she said. “It’s just too much. He’s not going to wear the mask, he’s not going to wash his hands, he’s going to want to interact with his friends, he’s going to want to be around his friends and touch things and touch his face.”
One thing that’s certain about the coming homeschool surge is that it will reflect the diversity of the families involved.
As New Yorker Jared Rich told CNN: “We need creative solutions for what we’re going to be doing with our kids because it seems inevitable that the institutional learning and the big school buildings are not going to be able to function in the next couple of months.”
Jared added that he hopes to team up with other families to rent classroom space and hire a tutor.
This idea of sharing costs for an instructor, or having parents take turns teaching, arises often among prospective homeschoolers.
Working parents seek flexibility to be able to do school and maintain their job schedules. Also, in this time of economic uncertainty, few families can afford on their own to pay private instructors the going rate of $25 to $80 an hour.
Which helps explain why, when Georgia mom Jenn Schestopol started a Facebook group for families exploring homeschooling options, it grew to more than 3,000 members in three weeks.
Or why Brian Richardson of Chicago is looking for two or three families to enroll their kids with his 1st-grader in what he’s calling a tutoring “pod.”
“It’s not in any budget, and it’s not something that we prepared for,” Brian told NBC News, “so we’re looking into sharing with other families to try and make it work.”
This do-it-yourself mentality mixed with a hint a pioneer moxie is quite familiar to Vicki Bentley, who has long been involved in connecting Home School Legal Defense Association members with homeschool groups.
“The small, family-based co-ops hail back to my early days of homeschooling,” she recalled. “Several families would pool their efforts one or more days a week to meet in a home or other available space to take turns teaching. These could be a handful of classes of interest to various ages or one seminar on a topic that appealed to all.”
Vicki added that she applauds the efforts of today’s parents to form innovative microschools, or “pods,” which she hopes benefit everyone involved.
She did caution parents to remain flexible—and to please not dismiss homeschooling based on difficulties inherent to the COVID-19 era.
“All of us will have to work with restricted schedules, curtailed extracurricular activities, and many options that will no longer be available,” she said. “Homeschool co-ops of 2020 will likely look very different than those in the past. Many groups may become virtual, and others will adapt by moving outdoors or limiting enrollment.”
As a final caveat, Vicki reminded parents that homeschool groups may have to deal with various legalities—not to mention the land mine of possibly being out of compliance with their state's compulsory education laws. HSLDA Staff Attorney Darren Jones addressed many of issues these in a recent article.
And for all new homeschoolers seeking support, the words of HSLDA Vice President Jim Mason certainly apply.
“As we have been since 1983, we at HSLDA are here to help,” he wrote in a recent note of encouragement. “We want to help you help your friends begin their homeschooling journey. And as always, we are eager to help you too.”