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.”