Parents are turning to homeschool or private schools during the pandemic after witnessing their child struggle with virtual learning, and the harm being done to their child’s mental or emotional wellbeing as a result of the pandemic measurements taken to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Alex Maloney was thriving and finding his voice with the dozen or so words he had learned over two years of speech therapy before his school had to switch to remote learning last year in March due to the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic.
He was attending prekindergarten in one of Boston Public Schools (BPS) and virtual-only instruction was a challenge for him. That’s because Alex was diagnosed with autism and global development delay and requires all-day stimulation along with the services provided at school to help with his development.
“I said to my husband, he is going to be so far behind because he does have a developmental delay in addition to the autism,” Lisa Maloney, Alex’s mother told The Epoch Times. “He basically is a year behind.”
Lisa said her son could only do half an hour virtually every day before he’d lose focus. She felt frustrated and helpless finding little to no support from the school district and having to also care for two other children.
“It was very frustrating because it’s hard to see your child regressing and I was getting very stressed out,” she said.
Alex was regressing, losing more than half of the 10 to 15 words it took him several years to learn after therapies offered at school came to a halt when remote learning began on March 17, 2020.
Lisa decided to advocate for her son, trying to find answers from officials about their plans for special needs children who required in-person services at their school. According to BPS, “about 11,350 students aged 3–21 with disabilities are enrolled in special education programs” or 21 percent of the total student population.
“So I basically wrote to the superintendent, I wrote to the mayor, the governor, like I left messages for state reps, and different people and no one would get back to me,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many times I did that.”
She then turned to organizations that offered autism therapy but due to the pandemic, most centers offered online sessions only while others had a long waiting list for at-home services.
Worried that BPS would switch to remote learning throughout the new school year if COVID-19 cases went up, Lisa didn’t want Alex to go through the changes and put him on a waitlist for a private school for autistic children. BPS did begin the school year with students learning remotely.
COVID-19 is a disease caused by the CCP virus.
Alex is now at his new private school. Lisa says he’s improving and saying “words that he never said before” since beginning in-person instruction last October.
Lisa understands that not every parent will feel comfortable sending their child to school for in-person learning, but for her, the benefit outweighed the risk and she felt comfortable with the proper safety precautions implemented at the school.
Public School Enrollment Declining
In collaboration with The Associated Press, Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering education, says preliminary “analysis of data from 33 states” showed that “public K-12 enrollment this fall [September 2020] has dropped across those states by more than 500,000 students, or 2 [percent], since the same time this year.”
“This is a significant shift considering that enrollment overall in those states has typically gone up by around half a percent in recent years,” the organization added.
Seventeen states had not yet released their data by the time the analysis was conducted but the nonprofit believed the decline in public school enrollment would be more noticeable, possibly affecting the school funding “based on headcount.”
Boston Public School saw its student enrollment fall by 4.7 percent from 50,480 students in 2019–2020 to 48,112 students in 2020-2021. Even one of Massachusetts’s top-rated school districts, Public Schools of Brookline, saw an 11 percent decline between this year’s school enrollment and last year, according to the state’s elementary and secondary education department.
According to the National Home Education Research Institute, homeschooling saw a drastic growth during the 2020–2021 school year, with an “estimated 4.0 to 5.0 million homeschool students in grades K-12 in the United States.” That’s almost twice the number of homeschoolers in the spring of 2019 when there were only about 2.5 million students.
Boston Globe reported in November 2020 that 7,188 students across Massachusetts had transferred from public schools into homeschooling, compared to the 802 students in 2019.
While in North Carolina, over 10,000 homeschool filings were submitted last summer, almost triple that of parents who had filed in 2019, according to the North State Journal.
Private schools have also seen an uptick in enrollment this school year. Scott Bohan, dean of admission at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire told Concord Monitor back in August of last year that he had worried the pandemic would turn families away from sending their children to the school.
But his worries were unfounded when parents began calling about enrolling their kids in his school since most public schools would be doing remote learning only.
“This has probably been the busiest summer I’ve ever had, yielding phone calls from people trying to get their kids into St. Paul’s,” Bohan said. “It’s been fascinating to see how this has unfolded, from this being a major concern to … we can take many more.”