Unsatisfied with district options, some Summit County parents move to homeschool
FRISCO — During a school year unlike any other, parents are having to make a lot of choices.
For an increasing minority, that choice has been to homeschool their children. While official enrollment numbers for Summit School District are not yet available, the district is already reporting a slight drop in enrollment from previous years.
District spokesperson Mikki Grebetz said weekly reports are showing that enrollment is down a little over 2% in the district. Across Colorado, enrollment is down about 3.5% in some of the state’s largest school districts, according to reporting by Chalkbeat.
The drop in enrollment is likely due to anxiety over the realities of school in a pandemic, especially for parents of elementary students, who are in-person four days a week as part of the district’s plan.
Clair Sullivan, whose daughter Sophie would have been a fourth grader at Breckenridge Elementary, said that she and her husband felt it was too risky to have their daughter return to school in person.
“Part of this is just because we are fortunate enough to be in the situation where we can do this,” said Sullivan, who works from home. “I feel for the parents who both have to work and rely on kids being in school and after-school programs. There is no good answer.”
Sullivan initially decided to go with the school’s remote learning plan, which allows students to do online learning 100% of the time. While she was open-minded to the plan at first, Sullivan quickly realized it would not work for Sophie.
“We really did try, but at the end of the day, every single time I left my office … my daughter was outside my door bawling,” she said.
Sullivan said she was motivated to give remote learning a shot as she knew that completely unenrolling her daughter would cost the district money in per-pupil funding. For that reason, she waited until Oct. 1, the day when the state does its final counts for enrollment, to unenroll Sophie.
Sullivan isn’t alone. When she first decided to homeschool, she found that many Summit County families were considering it and created a Facebook group for parents who are new to homeschooling. Through that group, she’s met a lot of parents in a similar situation.
Nicole Lantz also made the decision to homeschool her two sons, Ethan and Caleb, who would’ve been in kindergarten and second grade at Silverthorne Elementary, after feeling dissatisfied with the options presented by the district.
Lantz said she didn’t like the idea of her sons having to wear masks for the entire school day and not being able to socialize with their peers.
“The school system is doing their best and they are complying with all the health guidelines, so this isn’t their fault,” she said. “But I didn’t like the way the social interaction was going to look for kids this year.”
Homeschooling: a new frontier
For both Lantz and Sullivan, the transition to homeschooling wasn’t an easy one.
Sullivan said she had to take a week off work to look at all the options available for her daughter.
“There’s hundreds and hundreds of options out there,” she said. “If you say, well my kid is really strong in this area and kind of weaker in this area, how do I find the right program for that? That’s one of the nice things about homeschooling is that if you don’t find the right program you try something else.”
Both Lantz and Sullivan are using a mix of curriculum to homeschool their students. For Lantz, a major priority was getting her students outside.
For a unit on the Oregon Trail, Lantz improvised by using a bike trailer to simulate a covered wagon from the 1800s. She had her sons pretend to use the bike wagon as pioneers would have on the Oregon Trail.
With homeschooling comes somewhat blurred boundaries, where it sometimes can be difficult for parents to transition between teacher and parent roles.
“The transition sucks, there’s no two ways around it,” Sullivan said. “She has spent her entire life in a classroom where she has a specific teacher or set of teachers, and they’re different than mom or dad, so she has a different relationship with them.”
Lantz, who does all of the homeschooling in her family, said her husband has been dedicated to giving her some space away from the kids on the weekends.
“The transition is tricky because you’re used to having a few more moments during the week to gather your thoughts, be still and be with yourself,” she said. “Having all of them home all of the time, it does intensify being a mom a little bit.”
Returning to school
For her sons to return to the district, Lantz said the school environment would have to look a little bit more normal.
“My kids would have to be able to go to school without wearing a mask and they would have to be able to interact with kids normally,” Lantz said. “I really support those measures being in place right now, so I don’t mean to discourage them. But to send my kids back, that would need to be changed.”
Sullivan said she would like to see more communication from the district about the spread of the virus. She believes the school should be informing the public about cohorts of students that are in quarantine, which the district has said it won’t be doing.
“It is very hard for parents, remote schooling, homeschooling, whatever, to make an educated decision on whether its safe for their children to return if the district refuses to provide numbers on quarantines,” she said.
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