When Jennifer Perez Caraballo decided to keep her 4-year-old child at home for the school year, she had a lot to think about, with two parents at home working full time, her own preexisting health conditions, and back-to-school plans from Hartford public schools that seemed unclear.
“We were in Pre-K 3 at the moment, so we didn’t really receive any remote learning instruction or ... any supplemental stuff by the teacher every now and then that were Montessori-oriented,” she said. “We had already been tip-toeing around the idea of home schooling, and for us this was the beginning of ‘should we just go straight into home schooling?’” said Caraballo.
She said one of her major worries is how the school district came to its conclusions about parents’ needs.
“I worry more about what Hartford schools [look at] and what are the actual needs of parents, than pretending to know,” she said.
That’s also something Robert Cotto Jr., a lecturer and education policy analyst, is worrying about. In his research at Trinity College he looks at school choice through the lens of how and why parents make their decisions.
“What I found was that districts over the last couple of weeks had been asking parents, ‘Are you coming back to school in person or will you be coming to school in an online format, or maybe something in the middle?’” said Cotto.
According to Hartford public schools data, 58% of families indicated they will chose virtual learning and 42% indicated they will return to school in person. But the simple ‘yes or no’ question did not consider whether parents are sending their children back because they are essential workers or because they need additional educational support or for some other reason.
Now Cotto is conducting his own survey of parents.
“What I found district to district was, none of the districts were asking parents, why are you making that decision, whether it’d be coming back in person or whether they’d be going online,” said Cotto. “And I thought that was important to try to understand. Why are parents feeling they need to make a decision in one way or another and what’s kind of underneath those decisions.”
The community engaged survey is anonymous and allows parents to indicate how and why they’re making their decisions. Cotto said the survey will be open until Monday night, and he’ll share the findings with Hartford public schools.
Brenda Leon is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.