Rachel Busse took a break from her job as a nurse to care for her four children this spring during Illinois’ stay-at-home order. She juggled entertaining her toddler while coordinating e-learning for her three elementary school-aged children.
That meant managing three virtual classrooms and teachers, each with a different online platform.
“They all just had their different ways of putting things together the best they could in short notice,” she said. “But it was a lot for me to coordinate for all three kids.”
Faced with the prospect of repeating that this fall, the Crystal Lake mother is considering pulling her kids from District 47 schools and putting on the teacher hat. She thinks the district put together a good plan, but she’s hesitant.
“It sounds to me like it’s going to be a lot of back and forth,” Busse said. “I want to provide a stable learning environment for them.”
As an added bonus, her family has a rare opportunity to travel for a few weeks. Busse thinks she could use that time to teach a more diverse and inclusive history lesson while visiting historic sites around the country.
Minus the idyllic road trip, a growing number of parents in Illinois are like Busse and are pulling their kids from school for at least the first half of the year or are considering it. This comes as schools have been rolling out their plans for the fall, with some backpedaling in recent days and switching from some in-person learning to all remote as COVID-19 cases have grown.
While the risk of contracting COVID-19 is a concern, some families also worry this school year may lack consistency. Parents are exploring a number of options, like joining up with a small cluster of students and sharing a private tutor or taking the full responsibility as an at-home teacher.
Home schooling inquiries skyrocket
Erin Lasky has home-schooled all six of her children. She manages a Chicago area home schooling page on Facebook and has seen a big increase in inquiries. She would typically hear from people who are starting fresh in kindergarten or from parents whose children may have been bullied. Over the past couple of months, it’s shifted.
“For some of them, [public school] isn’t a realistic option,” Lasky said. “For some, e-learning went poorly in the spring, and they don’t want to revisit that.”
Lasky said a lot of questions center around curriculum and schedules.
“Someone’s like, ‘Hey, I want to start home schooling. Where do I find the lesson plans?’ ” she said. “You don’t just go click and OK, ‘Here I’ve got everything I need. Let’s start this tomorrow.’ ”
Lasky has told newcomers home schooling it takes a lot of work, research and patience. But she said it’s doable, especially if parents understand they don’t need to follow the typical public school schedule.
Lasky considers herself a small part of the larger home schooling network in the state. She said many other public home-school groups have also received a lot of messages lately.
The appetite to give it a try in Illinois is significant, said Kathy Wentz, a former classroom teacher who works with Illinois HOUSE, a coalition of home-schoolers in the state.
“We’ve had about a 500% increase in inquiries over the past month and a half [or] two months,” Wentz said.
Parents are asking her how they pull their kids out of public school. In Illinois, home-school is considered a private school, and the transfer process is similar. ISBE also offers a voluntary registration form specific to home schooling, but many long time home-schoolers discourage people from filling it out. She said it’s over compliance, and in some cases, families have been pressured to enroll in their local district.
However, Wentz said people should inform their school if they are withdrawing their child. It matters for the school’s planning and budgeting.
“Those poor teachers are planning on that child in attendance,” she said. “They’re writing names in gradebooks. They’re getting materials ready. Do the school a favor. Do the teachers a favor. Let them know as soon as possible that you are planning on home schooling.”
She said a lot of families she’s hearing from hope to plug their kids back into school next year or even in the spring.
Making the home schooling decision
Chicago parent Rebecca Bagdy said she loves her children’s school and considers herself a big proponent of public education. But she and her husband are still concerned about the pandemic and how it could spread.
“In what scenario do we feel comfortable sending our kids back?” Bagdy discussed with her husband. “It’s pretty much, we need a vaccine or the rates in the Chicago area need to be so low that we feel comfortable sending our kids back.”
Bagdy will home-school her two children, in third and fourth grade, this fall but she plans to eventually put her children back in the Chicago public school they attend. She’s looking for materials that align with their curriculum so her kids don’t fall behind once they go back.
She and husband will continue to work, which will take some creative scheduling. But they also plan on sharing the burden by linking up with a few other families to form something of a remote home-school co-op.
Bagdy has talked with other parents about their expertise. “‘You’re really great at science, and that’s something that we haven’t really hit on as well,’” she said. “We’re going to try and do the things that are hard together.”
She’s also got family members willing to lend a hand from afar.
“I got my uncle to come in one hour a week. He’s teaching history,” she said. “I’ve got my aunt who’s a musician. I’m going to see if I can have her teach them some music.”
Bagdy thinks it will be challenging, but it’ll be a good opportunity to offer her children education tailored to their needs. She thinks she can muster up the patience, knowing this pandemic and all the disruption it has wrought, won’t last forever.