Opting-Out of Remote Schooling and Opting-In to Play is an Option All Parents Can Choose

by Denisha Jones, Ph.D., J.D.

Denisha Jones is DEY’s Director of Early Childhood Organizing and also Director, Art of Teaching Program, Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY.

The widespread impact of COVID-19 has led to an immediate change in how schools educate children of all ages.  As we enact social distancing measures, schools and many childcare centers closed and prepared for remote instruction. Many families had to quickly learn how to balance implementing remote schooling while working from home. Those of you living in one of 20 states that have closed schools for the rest of the year must find a way to adjust to this new reality.

The ability to work from home is a privilege denied to many people who were laid off or deemed essential and required to put their lives at risk so they can continue to feed their families. For those fortunate enough to still have their job, having one or more children at home meant taking on the new role of remote schooling facilitator. And though being able to work during this pandemic is a blessing, many are finding it challenging to work and run a small school at the same time. On April 8th one working mother said enough is enough.

“We just wrote a hard email. I told our son’s (lovely, kind, caring) teacher that, no, we will not be participating in her ‘virtual classroom’, and that he was done with the 1st grade. We cannot cope with this insanity. Survival and protecting his well being come first.”

Sarah Parcak posted on Twitter that she decided to end her son’s time in the first grade by not participating in the virtual classroom his teacher set up.  Though many applauded this mother’s decision, I read many comments that claimed only privileged (i.e., white middle to upper class) families could make this choice. I did not doubt that Sarah Parcak likely came from a place of privilege, and this was confirmed when we learned that she is an academic and runs a nonprofit organization. However, I disagree that only privileged parents can make this same choice. All parents who are at home with their children and expected to facilitate remote schooling have the option to say no! If the push to virtual teaching is causing stress to your child and your family, you have the right to opt-out.

What about the loss of learning? How will they get promoted to the next grade? Won’t they get left behind? These are just some of the questions I hear when I advocate for parents opting out of remote schooling, and I understand that many parents are not sure this is the right decision. Honestly, there is no easy answer because a lot depends on whether your state plans to reopen schools this year and how they will proceed with reopening schools next year.  But what we need to remember is that a temporary break in schooling is not the end of the world. Students who had their schooling interrupted during hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, recovered just fine. And given the multitude of inequities inherent in the push to remote instruction, schools will likely not be able to determine grade promotion based on what students are expected to do during this time. Many districts are exempting remote work from counting towards final grades or only expecting teachers to spend this time reviewing previous material. If we can cancel standardized testing across the country, we can get our students back in school in the next grade without expecting them to spend hours each day engaging in remote instruction.

Here are some questions I think you should ask when deciding if opting out of remote schooling is right for you:

  • Is remote schooling causing additional stress on your child and your family?
  • Is your child expected to be on a computer for two or more hours a day?
  • Are you unable to stay on top of your work from home responsibilities and facilitate remote schooling?
  • Does remote schooling bring your child and your family joy?

If remote schooling is working for you and your child, then, by all means, keep going. But if you find the expectation to facilitate schooling at home with your child problematic, you have the right to opt-out and opt-in to something better. You can use this time to allow your child to engage in the most cost-effective, self-directed, authentic form of learning there is…PLAY! Children do not just learn through play; play is learning!

COVID-19 has interrupted schooling, but education does not require a school building and should not be limited to an academic curriculum. Children should seize this opportunity to engage in activities that bring them joy and foster deep engagement. Parents can take the time to find out what their child is interested in and support them in pursuing that interest in a variety of ways.  Together children and parents can document the learning that happens through play and share that with the teacher or administrator who thinks there is only one way to learn. And play is not just limited to younger children.  Inquiry-based projects that are appropriate for older children can be another type of play.

Having money to buy toys and materials is nice, but it is not a requirement for play. Having access to many acres of green space is nice, but it is not a requirement for play. All children need to play are love and encouragement from adults, time, space, and the freedom to let their imagination lead.  All adults need to opt-in to play is the desire to break free from the status quo and use this current situation to usher a new way of engaging and learning.  When your child looks back on how they survived their first (and hopefully only) global pandemic, do you want their memories to be of the stress of remote schooling or the freedom to play?

How are you promoting play during COVID-19? Send your story to denisha@dey.org