Stay or leave: WA families reflect on attending public schools

In an informal survey last month, more than 100 parents told Crosscut about their reasons for pulling their children out of school. The reasons were wide ranging, but many cited the schools’ response to the pandemic — objections to mask-wearing and school closures, and those who did not believe schools were doing enough to protect students from the spread of COVID-19.

Remote schooling was a pain point for some families who found options outside of public schools.

“When everything went virtual, my children were learning nothing,” said Melanie Morris, a parent in the Northshore School District. She said her 7-year-old had six to seven Zoom meetings a day.

“I was basically responsible for teaching my children, but had no control or communication around their schedule or curriculum,” she said.

Their family switched to home-schooling. 

“They are thriving. We will continue this new lifestyle indefinitely,” Morris said. “Sadly, through this experience I have lost my faith in the public school system and may never get it back.”

Brenda Grigg of Montesano could have enrolled her daughter in kindergarten during the 2020-21 school year, but the family decided to wait in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“But prevention became political. We don’t live in a region that takes prevention seriously, and while our daughter is devoted to wearing a mask, we noticed a laziness with other parents keeping their own children masked up,” she said.

Though her daughter is vaccinated, the spread of the omicron variant in the fall put their kindergarten plans on hold.

“We’re not exactly sure what to do, but the state doesn’t require students to attend public school until age 8, so we’ll try to prepare her for direct enrollment into first grade and teach kindergarten at home,” Grigg said.

For other families, the pandemic wasn’t the only reason to unenroll from public schools.

Sarra Burnett took her children out of the Elma School District in Grays Harbor County. At first it was because her family objected to the mask mandates for students attending in person.

But later, Burnett also took issue with both the way that issues of race are being taught in history classes and the mandated sexual education now required for all students in public K-12 schools. Burnett said she believes that parents should decide when their children are ready for those conversations.

“I am a Native American, so I don’t shy away from race discussions, but I think that each family ought to be responsible to teach their history and heritage over schools taking that on,” she said. 

“[I}t became clear that this was not a short-term decision,” Burnett said. “I don’t have much faith in our school system anymore, so I quit my job to stay at home and homeschool my kids.”

Other parents cited very individual reasons for removing their children from the public schools, from cases of bullying to being dissatisfied with public school options for students who needed specific services, such as special education or advanced learning opportunities.

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