‘SEND PARENTS THE STIPEND THAT HOMESCHOOL PARENTS RECEIVE‘
By KELLY TSHIBAKA
On July 30, the Anchorage School District notified parents the COVID-19 risk level is too high to reopen schools for the first quarter of the 2020-2021 school year. Administrators state that they are prioritizing school and community safety.
Parents with children in Anchorage public schools also prioritize the safety of our schools and communities. But, as a result of the district’s decision, thousands of us unexpectedly have become homeschooling parents right before school is scheduled to begin, even if, among other things, we missed the open period for the homeschool lotteries or don’t have the skills or resources to effectively educate our children.
We are unable to adequately serve as our kids’ teachers because:
• We work full-time during the day;
• We are unemployed and looking for work;
• We have kids with unique or special needs;
• We are teachers who have to provide digital instruction to other students during the day; or
• We do not understand the complexity of the material our children are learning.
Our reality as parents is that all Anchorage public schools have become “homeschools,” even though they’re not designated as such by the district. After being notified of the closure for the first quarter, some of us tried to enroll in Alaska homeschool options, but they are not accepting students or have long wait lists.
Others of us didn’t pursue homeschool enrollment, but there remains a significant burden on all of us to educate our kids for these reasons:
• The district hasn’t established standards for a minimum number of hours teachers are expected to provide online teaching;
• We received remarkably disparate (and often inadequate) support and interaction from teachers last quarter;
• We haven’t seen a plan for how the district will assess our student’s learning progress – which is absolutely unacceptable when Alaska has one of the lowest testing proficiency scores in the nation and we are increasingly concerned our kids are stagnating or regressing academically; and
• Anchorage School District engagement metrics showed an average of 25 percent of our students in 6th-12th grade didn’t submit their online school work last quarter, which means parents are critical to ensuring online learning is completed and submitted.
We refuse to be complicit in what amounts to the educational neglect of our children. We don’t believe we have to choose either to keep our schools and communities safe or to effectively educate children. We can partner with the school district in achieving both objectives, if we are adequately resourced to do so.
Parents of students did not ask for financial assistance last Spring. We all understood the emergency situation the school district faced.
The Anchorage School District has had 5 months to develop a solution, however. If the solution is for children to learn at home, then the solution must involve resourcing parents to do the job.
We aren’t trained to be teachers. We did not choose homeschooling for a reason. We have been forced into homeschooling and we are expected to do the same work as homeschool parents in Alaska homeschool partnerships, but we haven’t been given the student allotment they receive. It’s not fair to our children.
Since local schools have unexpectedly been converted into “homeschool hubs,” placing the greater burden of teaching on parents, we are petitioning the Anchorage School District to send us the homeschool stipend amount for each of our ASD enrolled students: $2000/elementary and $2,400/high school student. We believe these funds can come from from the over $100 million non-instructional operational expenses that are not being used to run school buildings that currently are shutdown. This will help us to provide the educational resources we need, such as:
• Special needs providers;
• Tutors or assistants; and
• Supplemental or substitutional educational materials.
We have started a petition at http://chng.it/kLYDgV2r. We are not requesting government handouts without accountability. This allotment would follow the same processes and procedures already in place for those parents in homeschool programs: ASD parents would submit receipts or invoices for authorized expenses, up to the total of the stipend. Not all families would need the full stipend, or the stipend at all. But those families who need supplemental assistance would have access to it.
We seek 1,000 signatures from Anchorage School District parents by the end of August. We cannot, we will not, fail our children.
Kelly Tshibaka is the Commissioner of Administration but is writing this column as a citizen and parent.