By Lorraine Gabbert
Some South Bay students are scrambling to figure out what’s next after the San Jose Unified School District abruptly ended its home study program.
Home-based education allowed students to go at their own pace and excel in areas of special interest. They could be completely homeschooled or have a combination of homeschooling with school classes or college coursework. Students could also be involved in extracurricular activities.
This learning option worked well for students who struggled in traditional classroom settings, said parent Jill Borders.
But the district is ending the program, citing government directives. District spokesperson Jennifer Maddox said the Legislature is positioned to remove distance learning as an option and is tightening up the independent studies program. Maddox said she expects lawmakers to pass legislation in July.
“As California finalizes legislation for the 2021-2022 school year, including changes to existing independent studies programs and the end of distance learning, and as we continue to prepare to return all students to in-person learning, San Jose Unified has determined that we can no longer offer the home school program,” said Deputy Superintendent Stephen McMahon in a letter to parents.
The program will no longer be offered beginning in August.
Maddox said the current education code does not mention home studies as an option for learning. It also specifies that independent studies programs have uniform curriculum supervised and graded by credentialed teachers. Right now, Maddox said some home study parents are evaluating and grading coursework.
“We need to make a couple of changes to be in full compliance with the law,” she said, adding the state Legislature will likely close a lot of the loopholes on independent studies as they want kids back in the classroom with teachers following the pandemic. “With this change likely coming, we have to take action.”
But the home study program has been around for three decades — long before the pandemic. And abruptly ending it came as a shock to parents involved in the program.
“Parents are very distraught,” Borders said. “This program is a lifesaver. You have a gem on your hands and you’re about to lose it.”
Borders’ daughter Annie, who recently graduated from the home study program, said kids have enormously benefited from it.
The only home-based study program the district can offer in compliance with state law is an independent studies program, McMahon said. Students in this program meet with their credentialed teacher once per week to check-in on assignments and progress. All K-12 students participating in long-term independent studies will be enrolled at Liberty Alternative School.
The district gave parents of students in the home study program the option to enroll in the independent studies program, attend school in person full-time at a district school or enroll in a private school, charter school or do home schooling. If parents don’t select an option by July 1, their children will be enrolled in the program at Liberty Alternative School.
“By going to Liberty, you’re taking away the kid’s ability to participate in their neighborhood school,” said parent Rob Wirecinski, who has three children in the home study program. “That’s actually a very big deal. We were looking forward to water polo and orchestra next year at Leland High School…You are kicking us out of our own community.”
About 450 district students are enrolled in the independent studies program, and 100 are enrolled in home study program. There are 28,000 students in the district.
With home study, parents choose curriculum and are involved in the assessment and grading of students. Independent studies uses district curriculum and students meet with credentialed teachers weekly.
Parent Lisa Charpontier said the district canceled the program without notice or input from any of the families affected. They only had two weeks to reorganize their children’s education plans for the next school year.
Until now, home study students enrolled at their neighborhood schools and could take some classes there, as well as participate in extracurricular activities.
Cynthia Teeple said the home study program enabled her child to excel.
“For kids who can’t sit in a classroom all day… you’ve given them an option to be with their peers, be social, be part of the community,” Teeple said. “It’s very heartbreaking they’re getting rid of it.”
Maddox said she understands the frustration families feel, but the district can no longer offer home schooling.
“Their transcript when they graduate is indistinguishable from a student that attended class full-time for four years,” Maddox said, “and we don’t feel like that’s an accurate reflection of the work the students have done.”
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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