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With the safe reopening of schools this fall in doubt, parents with the resources are setting up “learning pods” or seeking other options. But the do-it-yourself approach to education threatens to leave behind students of color and poorer families.
Earlier this summer, Kristina Boshernitzan and a group of neighbors stood in the driveway of her Austin home for a socially distanced meeting to figure out how to take greater control of their childrens’ educations.
With the coronavirus spreading unpredictably and plans to safely reopen schools shifting day by day, the parents grappled with the increasing prospect that it might be unsafe, or impossible, to send their children back to school in the fall.
Each faced difficult decisions. One neighbor’s husband had stage 4 cancer, and she didn’t want her children to expose him to the new coronavirus, which they might pick up in a classroom. Another mother had young twins with lung issues. Just a cold is enough to send them to the hospital, and they can take no risk of being exposed to COVID-19.
Boshernitzan, who works full-time at a nonprofit, wanted parents to pool resources and find ways to make virtual learning easier. They discussed hiring a college student or nanny to help children complete their online school district coursework, or finding a music or arts instructor who could replace enrichment courses while schools are closed for in-person learning.
To reach even more parents, she created a private Facebook group for parents in northwest Austin who want to connect and form “learning pods,” a term she said is “in the zeitgeist right now.” In less than two weeks, the group gained almost 500 members.
many parents don’t have the money to hire private instructors or the flexibility to home-school their children. Upon hearing that Frisco ISD wouldn’t open classrooms for at least three weeks after the school year begins, Chloe McGlover panicked, knowing her budget is too tight to hire a tutor or full-time teacher for her 11-year-old son, Jhonte. The single mother owns a massage therapy business and lost money shutting down earlier this year during the statewide stay-at-home order.
“I already know I can’t afford it. There’s really no point in even looking,” she said. “Whatever little savings I had is almost depleted now.”
The decisions parents are making in response to the patchwork of opening dates, remote learning and do-it-yourself education coming this fall underscore the fact that the pandemic will exacerbate education gaps between higher-income and low-income students, as well as white students and students of color.