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Public school exit strategies

Education | The coronavirus complicates the switch to homeschooling for some
by Laura Edghill
Posted 4/22/20, 05:57 pm

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced most of the nation’s children to learn from home with curriculum supplied by their brick-and-mortar schools. But some families who want to formally homeschool or enroll in online schools have run into obstacles.

“There have been isolated questions and issues I think from just about all of my states,” said Home School Legal Defense Association attorney Tj Schmidt, who is the association’s contact for homeschoolers in 10 states.

The reasons parents are withdrawing their children from public schools right now vary, but many say either the schools are ill-prepared for distance learning or the remote options offered don’t fit their child’s learning style.

In Palm Beach County, Fla., a family received confusing and contradictory responses last month when the parents requested to homeschool their children rather than use the public school district’s distance learning option during the shutdown. In that case, a simple phone call to local education officials resolved the situation so the family could officially unenroll, Schmidt said.

But it’s not always that easy. Barriers to homeschooling have cropped up in other states, including California, North Carolina, and Oregon. Parents trying to remove their students from public schools ran into confusing processes, pleas to stay, and even statewide freezes on enrollment changes.

In Oregon, an executive order issued by Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, in March prohibits any student from enrolling or withdrawing from any type of school, including the state’s virtual schools. The restriction leaves many families stuck at least until Tuesday when the order expires.

Schmidt said he blames the pandemic for most of the issues rather than any coordinated opposition to homeschooling or hoarding by districts that get funding based on enrollment. “I don’t know that there’s evil intent,” he said. “But it’s certainly led to a significant amount of confusion and concerns.”

Some states have taken steps to clear up the confusion. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, recently clarified that her order only closed physical school buildings to students for the rest of the school year. At first, people thought it suspended all education, leaving the state’s homeschooling families and those attending virtual schools perplexed and frustrated. Oklahoma and Michigan also modified their funding models for the current year, notifying schools that it wouldn’t count against their budget if any students unenrolled as a result of the pandemic.

Despite the turmoil, Schmidt, a homeschooling parent himself, sees opportunities for the future as many families experience home education for the first time.

“I think a potential benefit would be that parents may see that this is actually something that could work for them,” he said. “And I think that more and more companies could find that they can have better morale and as much productivity when parents are allowed to work more from home.”

Associated Press/Photo by Alex Brandon (file) Associated Press/Photo by Alex Brandon (file) A college test preparation class in Bethesda, Md.

SAT goes online

High school students across the country could have the option to take the SAT online as early as this fall, The College Board, the company that produces the exam, announced last week.

The coronavirus pandemic nixed April and June in-person testing, dashing the hopes of high school juniors who want to take the exam this school year and submit results with college applications in the fall.

The move online suggests even fall in-person testing dates might not happen.

“We would much prefer that schools reopen, but we are ready to innovate and deliver in the unlikely case we need to,” College Board CEO David Coleman said.

More than 2.2 million students took the test in 2019. Colleges and universities traditionally require applicants to provide either an SAT or ACT score. Before this year, some schools had removed standardized testing requirements from their admissions process to evaluate prospective students based on a more holistic portfolio of work.

This pandemic has encouraged more schools to do the same, including all of California’s public universities. Even highly selective East Coast liberal arts schools like Williams and Amherst colleges have removed the requirement for this year’s crop of applicants. —L.E.

Associated Press/Photo by Rogelio V. Solis (file) Associated Press/Photo by Rogelio V. Solis (file) A school cafeteria in Canton, Miss.

Food fight rages on

A federal judge in Maryland last week struck down the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture school nutrition guidelines in a fight going back nearly a decade. U.S. District Judge George J. Hazel ruled the Trump administration did not give adequate public notice of its 2018 nutrition changes, which included relaxing requirements from 2012 rooted in former first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign. Those requirements included a 100 percent whole grains standard, as well as reduced sugar and sodium levels.

Schools complained the Obama-era rules were too strict, causing food waste and a drop in student participation in school lunch programs. The Obama administration loosened the requirement for 100 percent whole grains to 50 percent in 2014 and the Trump administration reintroduced low-fat instead of skim chocolate milk in 2018.

But last week, Hazel ruled that the USDA violated procedural rules when it implemented the 2018 guidelines, setting the stage for another round in the ongoing battle.

The ruling won’t affect the tens of thousands of schools running COVID-19 food distribution programs, which are regulated under separate standards for summer feeding programs. —L.E.

Hot spot buses

Students in South Carolina’s Horry County Schools can now pull into the parking lots of Harvest Baptist Church, a local Food Lion, or the Finklea Community Center to access a free Wi-Fi signal from a school bus. The school district, which includes the resort town of Myrtle Beach, is deploying nine buses to locations throughout the county to bring internet access to its more than 45,000 homebound students.

And it’s not just in Horry County: So-called “hot spot” buses have been sighted across the country, including in Austin, Texas; Gainesville, Fla.; and Cincinnati. Families can drive, walk, or bike to the locations to complete schoolwork and upload class assignments. —L.E.

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Laura Edghill

Laura is an education correspondent for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Northwestern University graduate and serves as the communications director for her church. Laura resides with her husband and three sons in Clinton Township, Mich. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

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    Posted: Thu, 04/23/2020 05:09 pm

    Let me guess, another Obama judge is mad that Trump changed Michelle's required food that even her own children are NOT required to eat. Makes sense to me.

    Posted: Thu, 04/23/2020 05:11 pm

    Publik Skool

    During the pandemic is when parents are learning just what students have been learning or not learning.