A couple of weeks into the online semester, a Pasadena family realized the format was no longer working for their daughter.
For the first three weeks of online learning, Gina Ingel said the experience for her kindergartner was getting progressively worse.
“The sitting there and watching with nothing really happening part? She was bored. She was done,” Ingel explained.
After consulting with a friend and trying to work with her daughter’s elementary school teacher and principal, Ingel decided it would be best to pull her child from the school system and instead home-school her.
This school year, Anne Arundel County Public Schools reported lower enrollment numbers as parents searched for alternatives. In particular, the number of students who left the school system to be home-schooled was much higher than the previous two years, according to data obtained by The Capital through a public information request. From last year to this year, the number of students who left to be homeschooled more than tripled.
In the 2018-19 school year, the school system counted 282 transfers for homeschooling, in the 2019-20 school year it went up to 286. In 2020-21 data counted by start of September, the school system had 876 transfers to homeschooling.
School officials have discussed lower enrollment this year at board meetings.
Board Vice President Melissa Ellis, head of the budget committee, asked that the board reach out to state delegates and representatives for legislation that would look for alternatives to enrollment numbers to determine funding, citing that numbers for the county have declined.
Ellis, who home-schooled her children through middle school, cautioned families from taking their children out of the school system.
“While it is far from perfect, we are still taking feedback and adjusting to continue to improve the experience for our students and teachers. Anyone who chose or chooses to home-school as a temporary solution to the current education environment necessitated by COVID-19 may miss out on the tremendous amount of support available to families through our public school system," Ellis said in an email in September.
Homeschooling groups such as Maryland Homeschool Association have seen more parents reach out as they consider alternatives said the group founder, Alessa Giampaolo Keener.
During the spring semester, Giampaolo Keener said schools had to go into crisis response to provide learning from home, emphasizing that it was not the same as traditional homeschooling.
She said families in the state are looking to withdrawal their children, at least temporarily, until a vaccine is made for the coronavirus or at least until families feel it is safe to return.
“Short term home-schoolers are approaching the selection of curriculum and what they are trying to do with their children in a very different sort of way,” she said.
Meghan Jones of Glen Burnie has homeschooled her children for the past seven years after deciding she wanted a more specific learning style better suited for her children.
So far, she has had others reach out to her and ask for advice on home-schooling children during the coronavirus pandemic, like Ingel.
“My advice is, always take a step back for a minute and spend some time with your kid and see what their interests are because if you jump right into another curriculum — especially if you’re spending a lot of money on that curriculum — you might find that it doesn’t work well,” Jones said.
Ingel’s daughter was used to in-person and a classroom setting, and so transitioning to online was challenging, said Ingel.
“She remembers the classroom. It was really hard. In the spring, she struggled to be on the computer with a class she had been with for half a year,” Ingel said.
Ingel said she still supports public schools, adding that her daughter’s teacher and principal tried to help but the online environment was not working.
At times her daughter would close the laptop, knowing that it would end the call, and so Ingel would come over to get her back on track. Weeks after her decision, Ingel said homeschooling is working well for her family.
Some parents find home-schooling to be an opportunity to connect more with their children.
Adam Wyndham, a parent who has advocated heavily for students with disabilities, signed up for a kindergarten waiver this year for one of his daughters and decided to home-school his older daughter.
“We’ve reached a point where computers aren’t necessarily making our lives more efficient. They’re making our lives more complicated,” he said.
The curriculum program he purchased offers flexibility and his daughter is able to go through lessons at a faster pace — leaving time for trips, he said.
So far, he was able to take her horseback riding in part to give her a chance to do more hands-on activities.
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Both Ingel and Wyndham said they withdrew their children after Sept. 30 in an effort to not reduce funding for the school system.
School officials are worried about the budget this year as the state and county rely on the number of students enrolled as part of the funding formula.
“That is concerning not only here in Anne Arundel County but in other jurisdictions within Maryland,” Chief Operating Officer Alex Szachnowicz said. “Enrollment numbers at first glance appear to be down because families have made other decisions.”
On Sept. 30, the state received a “snapshot in time” of how many students are enrolled in each school system, he said. From there, the state reviews the numbers to determine the funding level for each student and specific needs like special education, free and reduced meals and language assistance.
As the hybrid plan dominates conversation for school communities, some parents have posted on social media asking about homeschooling.
For Ingel, she said she signed her other daughter up for the hybrid plan but does not have high hopes that the plan will happen due to county health metrics. As of Thursday, the case rate was at 13 per 100,000.
The county health department decided a daily rate of 10 cases per 100,000 people is an acceptable level to resume classrooms, specifically for kindergarten to fifth grade.