Emergency Homeschool is Not Homeschooling
Due to the COVID-19 epidemic, schools are closed and parents are forced —they did not choose—to school their kids at home. This is a drastic difference. I remember when my siblings and I became homeschoolers in 2005, we were ecstatic. Unlike some of the usual myths like “homeschool kids are antisocial or cannot adapt to regular school,” we were top of our class and decent (as in nerd-decent) at sports. Our education at home was an ever-changing process, we had new benefits, but also rigid responsibilities. We attended homeschooling groups, learned from different techniques and teaching strategies and came up with our own. Despite advices, we found ourselves comfortable in replicating school at home, with some interesting twists. Regardless of the household’s pedagogical choice, something is certain, homeschooling is not easy.
The need to school children at home, should not be confused with homeschooling. Although, the word offers an accurate description for both cases, they are not the same. First, children and parents were not desiring the change nor were they prepared. Second, we are facing worldwide challenges due to COVID-19. Therefore, we are not in the optimal conditions to add more pressure to parents and kids. Third, the majority of children that are at home now will return to school with different instructional levels, depending of what parents were able to achieve during the pandemic. The ethical concerns about Emergency-Homeschooling are not the same — and should not be confused — with Homeschooling.
Some of the concerns of Emergency-Homeschooling are Beneficence and Justice. First, kids can be exposed to frustration, food insecurity, education insecurity, among other negative situations. Second, due to COVID-19, children are isolated at home, which means that their social network have been disrupted; adding another negative impact for their wellbeing. In my case, besides my immediate social network — the siblings— we had our homeschooling association group, plus our elective classes outside home. All of these are not available during a pandemic where social distancing is needed; another Emergency Homeschooling hallmark. For parents, they are faced with further pressure and responsibilities, their children education. This adds to the strain of the individual and family wellbeing and mental health. In the case of Justice, we have an unbalance distribution of burdens. Parents are struggling with work; some may continue remotely, others cannot. In other words, as Dr. Ruth Faden warns, children are not receiving equal response during the COVID-19 emergency. Furthermore, low income communities do not have the resources to strive in the new educational setup, such as technological access.
What are some of the solutions that may help mitigate the ethical concerns? Internet searches may be overwhelming, parents should follow recommendations from their school, State and U.S. Department of Education. If parents would like more information regarding homeschooling, it would be helpful to start with support groups in your community or State. Remember, there is not one-type or correct homeschooling approach, and most information is not tailored to emergency homeschooling. Depending on the situation, you should let children become part of the decision-making.
At the national or State level, plans to increase the benefits and minimize the harms of children and parents should be implemented. Some of the efforts include providing free school meals. Schools should consider remote mental health check-ups or, at least, teacher remote check-in with students. Although every grade is different, there should be an effort from schools and/or districts to help parents organize their children’s education. Due to the current situation with COVID-19, education should be goal-driven rather than time driven. Efforts should also be made to help mitigate student stress, specially seniors regarding graduation requirements. Some States have adjusted graduation requirements such as grading system and limiting minimum credit. In resume, Schools should facilitate the required information to parents; and continue to offer support remotely to both students and parents during Emergency Homeschool. Nonetheless, the priority is to take care and remain healthy during the difficult times of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vivian V. Altiery De Jesús was homeschooled since her 8th grade. She is currently a fourth-year medical student at Puerto Rico and Master of Bioethics candidate at the Berman Institute-Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.