SOUTHINGTON — A group of parents plan to withdraw their children from public school for the fall semester and form a homeschool co-op, an educational option that predates the pandemic but has gotten greater attention as families face an uncertain school year.
Alexandra Anderson’s daughter Victoria is headed into first grade and attended Oshana Elementary School for kindergarten. Anderson and her husband, who are worried about another school shutdown, said they can provide more learning opportunities at home.
They’re also worried about the emotional effects of distancing, masks and other health measures that will be in place.
“Both (my husband) and I knew it was going to be a very tense semester,” Anderson said. “There’s so many discussions going on, teachers aren’t comfortable, parents aren’t comfortable.”
Most of the work of teaching is on individual parents, but Anderson said parents in the co-op will take turns leading lessons based on availability and skill set. The meetings will take place at Anderson’s house and use her yard for outdoor projects or recess.
Next week, she’s planning to meet with other first-grade parents considering homeschooling. Anderson wants no more than seven children so that if group gatherings are restricted, the co-op can continue to meet.
“If the state cases go up, and group gatherings are prohibited, the schools can’t operate but we can,” she said. “For us, life remains the same. It’s eliminating a certain level of unpredictability.”
Parents curious about options
Deborah Stevenson, an attorney from Southbury and founder of the National Home Education Legal Defense, said she usually gets calls from parents curious about homeschooling in the summer, but this year is different.
“There’re a lot more people considering it. They just don’t know what’s going to be happening in terms of the virus and how the schools are going to be setting it up,” Stevenson said. “If they thought about it before, they’re thinking about it more seriously now.”
State statute lays the responsibility for education on parents, Stevenson said, who can choose to educate their children themselves or provide for their education through private or public schools. Homeschool co-ops are parents helping each other educate their children.
“The parents are still there for the most part and are still responsible for the education for the child,” Stevenson said.
State law requires parents to educate their children in a handful of subjects, such as math, U.S. history and reading. Accomplishing that is left to parents, Stevenson said, allowing for a wide range of teaching methods, curriculum and arrangements.
“That’s why parents who decide to homeschool can do it in any format, can hire a tutor in a subject, can get together with a few other parents,” she said.
As a voluntary association of homeschoolers, a co-op isn’t legally considered a school, according to Stevenson.
School Superintendent Tim Conellan said he’s not yet sure how many parents will choose to homeschool for the upcoming semester but is preparing a parental survey to determine enrollment.
The district requires parents who are pulling their children from public school to notify the district in writing.
“The district does have a form for parents to complete when they indicate that they are withdrawing their child for purposes of home instruction,” Connellan said.
The state Department of Education suggests parents file an intent to homeschool with the local district. Stevenson said this isn’t required and that once withdrawn from a school district, students aren’t under the authority of local district policies.
Plans to re-enroll, safety measures
Anderson plans to re-enroll her daughter after the fall semester and return to work. She’s worked with retired teachers to develop curriculum that mirrors what would be taught at Oshana, plus French, Spanish and other additional courses.
Connellan said re-enrollment is a “straightforward” process and that a child’s grade placement is up to the school principal.
With only a handful of families in the co-op, Anderson said concerns about coronavirus are minimized. She won’t require children to wear masks while at her house but will be encouraging hand washing and other good hygiene.
The co-op will also provide community where families know the precautions each is taking, unlike in a public school setting.
“We can socialize. It’s a pretty large group if you think about it, but it’s seven, it’s not one hundred,” Anderson said.