Coronavirus Situation Leading Some Massachusetts Parents To Homeschool This Fall

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Will the coronavirus emergency result in more families in Massachusetts homeschooling their kids this fall?

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is not ready to say, but some parents are saying yes.

For Bridgewater resident Leah Marie, that means homeschooling all three of her children. Previously, only one of them was homeschooled — and that one for health reasons.

Marie told New Boston Post in an email message that she has a rare autoimmune disease and her 10-year-old son, who has a heart condition, was already being homeschooled since October 2019.

She also has a 7-year-old entering second grade as a homeschooler this fall and a 6-year-old, who will repeat kindergarten as a homeschooler.

“Remote learning was not working for them, they are not learners by computer screen,” she wrote. “They are hands-on. My oldest has disabilities, that’s why I had originally pulled him from public schools. My [six-year-old] is repeating because he has ASD [autism spectrum disorder] and learning and retention issues and some dyslexia. 

“Home in my opinion, is a great place to learn and grow!” she added. “Some people just aren’t educated enough about homeschooling and automatically assume the bad, when it’s never true.”

Keryn Thomas of Weymouth also has children entering kindergarten and second grade, respectively, with individual education plans reflecting their special needs. This will be the first time she has homeschooled any of her children. 

She told New Boston Post that she is “incredibly lucky” to have the means to homeschool her children and that “so many families are in an impossibly difficult situation right now.” 

“Both of my kids have IEPs, and one of them is in a substantially separate classroom for students with high support needs,” she told New Boston Post in an email message. “Remote learning in the spring was a complete nightmare for us. Neither of my children are capable of navigating a virtual class without a LOT of assistance. So most days, you would find me dashing between two rooms, muting microphones, reopening closed chats, ushering them back to their seats, taking away toys that had materialized in my two-minute absence, and often, crying tears of frustration just off-camera.”

She said the situation didn’t work for her kids, and that they weren’t learning even though they had great teachers, and that they were burnt out by the end of the school year despite loving school before the pandemic.

“All summer, I’ve heard that the fall is going to look so different from the spring, but no one is telling me HOW it will be different,” Thomas wrote. “And despite having a fairly good imagination, I cannot conceive of any scenario in which it’s going to be beneficial for my kids.”

The bleak online prospects led her to opt to teach her children herself.

“This is a pretty big undertaking and I am a little nervous, but I am certain that it is a better option for our family than whatever last spring was and that’s what keeps me positive,” Thomas said.

Kayla McLellan from Ware also plans to homeschool her two sons this year for the first time– one that’s going into fifth grade and another that’s going into kindergarten last fall.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit Massachusetts in March, she began teaching her nephew, and it went well.

“I got to see his strengths and weaknesses for the first time. And I felt he did much better than being in a school environment, and his grades proved it.,” McLellan said in an email message.  “Then at the end of that school year, I asked him how he liked it? He stated he loved it because he was able to be himself all day long, instead of changing myself to try to fit in at school. Then I asked what kind of things he would change. And like any 10-year-old he shrugged his shoulders and said I don’t know, just things. I advised him that he should not change anything about himself unless he is fixing a flaw he now sees in himself.”

She said that seeing her nephew’s positive experience is the reason she plans to try it with her sons.

“I feel like my children will find themselves a lot sooner, because they aren’t going to change themselves to ‘fit in’ in school,” McLellan wrote. “Even if school reopens I will want to keep homeschooling because I get to know my children better, I get to know their weaknesses and strengths in school, and I feel like I was just able to keep him on the right track because I was guiding him in the right directions.”

So will this become a trend statewide? Jacqueline Reis, the media relations coordinator for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said it’s not clear yet.

“Parents who want to homeschool their children need the approval of their local school district, and the school district reports those numbers to us later in the school year,” Reis told New Boston Post in an email message. “We don’t have information right now about homeschooling numbers for the 2020-2021 [school year].”

Enrollment data in Massachusetts public schools is ordinarily reported to the state as of October 1.

As of the 2017-2018 school year, just 3.04 percent of the Bay State’s K-12 students were homeschooled (30,715 out of 1,009,367), according to A2Z Homeschooling. Enrollment data in Massachusetts is typically based on data from October 1 of the school year. That said, enrollment data for this year will likely be available in October.

Beth Kontos, the head of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, also doesn’t have a sense how many could end up homeschooled this school year.

“I really don’t know what people might be planning to do in that regard,” Kontos told New Boston Post in an email message. “People don’t tend to tell us anything about switching to homeschooling.  We will be offering remote learning in every district if the parents request it. Which we think is the safest option right now. “

Corey DeAngelis, the director of school choice at the libertarian-leaning Reason Foundation, said it wouldn’t surprise him if Massachusetts sees a surge in homeschool enrollment. He noted that homeschool filings are up 21 percent in Nebraska compared to this same time last year; 75 percent in Vermont; 229 percent in Maricopa County, Arizona (which includes Phoenix); and that the web site to enroll kids in homeschool in North Carolina crashed in July because of the number of people who visited it.

“School districts aren’t reopening in-person and the state already shortened the 180-day school year by 10 days,” DeAngelis wrote in an email message. “Some people are realizing that they might as well unenroll their children from schools that aren’t adequately meeting the needs of their children — and they’re seeking alternatives. 

“And because this means less money for school districts — some districts such as Denver Public Schools are issuing statements urging families to keep their children enrolled,” he added. “Families are realizing that they have some power in the relationship with the school system — and the system has gotten so bad in some places that it has pushed many families to exercise that power for the first time.”

DeAngelis added that families are starting to realize that there are better alternatives to traditional public schools for their children. He argued that students should be funded directly so that families have access to the kind of education they think is best for their children.