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NYC delays approvals for homeschooling amid surge in requests

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The‌ ‌coronavirus‌ and dissatisfaction with the Department of Education‘s remote instruction are ‌driving‌ ‌more‌ ‌families‌ ‌to‌ ‌leave the public schools and teach their kids at home. But the city is not processing homeschooling requests in a timely manner, The Post has learned.

Emily Griffin‌ ‌of‌ ‌Flushing‌ ‌pulled‌ ‌her ‌6-year-old‌ ‌twins‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌first‌ ‌grade‌ at PS 21 on Sept. 16. She ‌didn’t‌ ‌want‌ ‌them‌ ‌to‌ ‌bring‌ ‌Covid‌ ‌germs home‌ because she helps‌ ‌care‌ ‌for‌ ‌her elderly‌ ‌parents. And the DOE’s ‌online ‌learning‌ plan was unworkable while also caring for a 4-year-old, she told The Post.

But three weeks after Griffin sent the DOE’s Office of Homeschooling the required notification  — a “letter of intent” — and a home instruction plan, she has received only an auto-reply: “Please note that due to the volume of emails we are receiving, our response time is delayed.”

The office also failed to notify PS 21 of Griffin’s switch to homeschooling. On Wednesday, a school staffer called to ask why her children had not logged on remotely.

It’s an immense waste of resources on their part. that. I’m sure we’re not the only family.”

They’re not. Laurie Spigel, who founded the website HomeschoolNYC as a resource,  said the DOE’s Office of Homeschooling usually approves family homeschool plans by  mid-September.  “That has been delayed this year, and some families are still waiting,” Spigel said.

Despite repeated requests, the DOE has refused to say how many children its Office of Homeschooling has enrolled so far — or how many requests are pending.

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DOE spokeswoman Katie O’Hanlon said the office is short-staffed because some employees have been given other tasks to help schools reopen.

While still a tiny  segment of the city’s 1 million-student system, homeschooling has grown in popularity–  from 3,943‌ ‌registered kids in‌ ‌2013-14‌ ‌to‌ ‌8,960‌ in 2019-20. But the pandemic and frustration with the DOE has prompted a surge of NYC families trying it out, experts believe.

Emily Griffin and her daughters, age 6, 6 and 4 years visit the Queens Museum.
Emily Griffin and her daughters, age 6, 6 and 4 years visit the Queens Museum.J.C.Rice

“Homeschool is no longer seen as abnormal, but socially acceptable,” said Manisha Snoyer, founder of Modulo, a service that helps customize education plans for homeschoolers and connects them with small groups of other kids in  local “learning pods” led by parents, tutors and teachers.

Cara Fitzpatrick, an editor at the education news site Chalkbeat, has tweeted about the chaos and uncertainty of the DOE’s school reopening, saying it sparked her decision to pull two kids, ages 6 and 7, out of a Bronx elementary.

When she sent the DOE her letter of intent, she got a curt reply.   “Welcome to homeschool!” it started, but then warned it would give her family no academic assistance.

“Please know that upon registration to home school, your child will not have access to remote learning, general education instruction or instructional materials,” it said.



Fitzpatrick, who won a Pulitizer Prize for education reporting in Florida, told The Post she and her husband, who also have a one-year-old, opted against Mayor de Blasio’s blended learning — a mix of in-person and remote classes — over the summer. “Our teachers were begging for cleaning supplies in March and we had Covid cases the DOE didn’t alert us to, so I had little trust that they would do better in the fall.”

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Her kids started school in fully remote classes, but it bombed. They had different schedules with two or three Zoom meetings per day — often at conflicting times, Fitzpatrick said.

“The passwords were wrong or the link failed or the school internet was down,” she said. “The teachers were trying so hard to teach, but thirty 6-year-olds was chaotic, or at least ineffective. It was a lot of Zoom, and very little work.”

Luckily, the family is staying with her mom, a retired Washington State teacher, who turned her office into a classroom with a reading nook. She purchased a curriculum, and devised a schedule with plenty of recess. No screens allowed. “Grandma School doesn’t have laptops,” she said.

Griffin, who publishes Macaroni Kid, a website on Queens activities for kids, isn’t waiting for an answer from the DOE. She has already begun to homeschool her first-grade twins and a 4-year-old she pulled out of a city pre-K program.

“I love the teacher and I love the school,” Griffin said of PS 21. But her twins were in the same class, and could not be on the computer in the same room because it produced “a horrible echo.”

Griffin set them up separately — one in the living room, and one in the kids’ bedroom. She then had to monitor the twins on separate Zoom classes. “I was running from room to room with a 4-year-old,” she said.

Griffin and husband Matthew, who also works from home, decided to ditch it all, and start from scratch.

They do a lot of reading and use a math workbook on their own schedule.  Then Griffin takes the kids out to learn from the world around them. They  sponge up vocabulary, science and history on trips to parks, museums and zoos, Griffin said.

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Whether spotting an owl, holding an acorn, or passing a monument, it’s fodder for research and discussion, the mom said.  “Everything is a learning opportunity.”

The DOE has little incentive to promote homeschooling — it is a money loser for the city. Last year, the DOE collected $28,928 in city, state, federal and other funds for each child enrolled in schools, according to the Independent Budget Office

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