Parents right here in Middle Tennessee are slowly—and somewhat secretly—taking back their children’s education. Why? Because the majority of public schools have chosen not to hold in-person classroom sessions due to COVID-19. This is a decision that is not supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The AAP believes it is far more beneficial to send children to regular in-person classes—when done safely—than it is to continue at-home, online-only classes. The AAP’s COVID-19 Planning Considerations: Guidance for School Re-entry states, “the AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” The guidance emphasizes the importance of in-person learning: “Families rely on schools to provide child care; a safe, stimulating space for children to learn; opportunities for socialization; and access to school-based mental, physical, and nutritional health service.”
Regardless of the science and recommendations from highly regarded organizations such as the AAP, many districts have chosen fear over facts by remaining closed.
School districts across the country are seeing abysmal login rates for their virtual students, some reaching as high as 30%.
There are a few exceptions. A handful of schools, my son’s included, have decided to open. Friends from Grace Christian Academy in Leiper’s Fork, posted sweet pictures this week of mask-free grade school and high school students in adorable uniforms—all looking so blessedly normal. It is not a surprise to me that GCA decided to open. Most private schools have no choice but to listen to parents who directly fund them. So, once again, those who can afford private school will receive yet another advantage over students in public school districts where parents have little pull.
Fortunately, though, that’s not always the case. There are a few bright spots in the public space. The Franklin Special School District (FSSD), a unique construct approved by the state legislature in 1949, has also chosen to open. The FSSD has a small school board made up of parents who rotate regularly. Once the board reviewed the evidence, they unanimously voted to open, giving parents the option of sending students to school or continuing virtual instruction for the 2020-2021 school year.
Parents all over Williamson, Davidson, and Rutherford counties are still frantically struggling to balance home schooling—a role many admit they are ill equipped to handle—while actually trying work and make a living.
So how are they doing? The ones I’ve spoken to are not doing well. Some are taking an “enough is enough” stance by ignoring ridiculous mandates like the one in Rutherford County that requires parents to sign off that they will not listen in on their children’s online classes while in progress. Craziness like that, combined with stringent remote learning mandates, have proven too much for some parents who’ve chosen to take things into their own hands.
In many areas, fed-up parents and teachers are working together to form teaching co-ops. These co-ops include both in-person classroom sessions as well as virtual sessions. They give teachers who want to teach the opportunity to do so, while giving parents more control over their children’s education. These co-ops provide all the advantages of traditional schools without the public-school bureaucracy and flawed strategies like Common Core. One of these new schools, Roots Academy, a perfect example offering a blend of home school and face-to-face instruction.
Parents that aren’t able to take advantage of co-ops have options too. Industrious parents like Christina Barnes, a mother of six, are offering new resources for parents of virtual-only students. Barnes has joined Compass Classroom in launching “How I Homeschool,” which includes resources like videos and one-on-one consulting from veteran homeschool moms for parents who want to take control of what and how their children learn.5
Still other parents have set up or are participating in home schooling “pods” organized via private groups via Facebook. These groups combine facilitated study groups with summer camp-type activities, taking care of both the educational and social benefits children need, but are missing, because of school closures.
Along with educational challenges, the pandemic has brought about some unexpected benefits. One is that parents are now paying closer attention to what their children are being taught. They are also watching out for problems and taking every opportunity to identify potential issues. This gives them the insight needed to inform a more effective conversation—such as school choice—a popular topic when election-time rolls around.
I applaud the creativity of parents. I support the fact that parents need to have a voice in their children’s education no matter what their income or where they live. It is also heartwarming to see a community of educators and parents find their own solutions, no longer waiting on the government to determine what, where, when, and how their children will learn. Public school districts would be wise to recognize these changes and should embrace the subtle shift in power from the politicians to the parents.
Once parents realize the power they have, they won’t give it up easily, even after the pandemic is gone. Power to the parents!