Credit: Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education

A high school student completes his schoolwork online from his home.

Weeks after most districts began the school year, some students who enrolled in independent study — the only option for those opting out of in-person learning — have yet to begin instruction, be assigned a teacher or be enrolled in all required courses.

Those students’ parents say they are confused about how independent study works and that communication from school officials has been sporadic. Many of those parents have children at high risk of infection or family members at home at high risk, among other concerns driving their decision to keep their children off campus.

Most California K-12 students have returned for in-person learning, but those who can’t or don’t want to return must enroll in independent study. While independent study has long been an option for a few students, this school year’s surge in demand is overwhelming districts and frustrating students’ families.

The situation has been so chaotic, state legislators are proposing changes that will make it easier for districts to manage independent study. In the meantime, parents are struggling to manage their children’s education.

Tammy Tyler has two sons: Eric is in high school, and Daelin is in elementary school. She’s at high risk for contracting the coronavirus, so she decided to enroll both boys in the independent study program in their district, Mojave Unified in Kern County.

But the first day of school came and went without any communication from her older son’s teacher and without the Chromebook that she was told he’d be receiving. She reached out to the school and didn’t hear back. Two weeks passed by the time she heard from his teacher.

So she looked into enrolling Eric in a community school, a type of public school that partners with community organizations to provide social-emotional support for students. She figured smaller size classes might allow for social distancing that would help keep her and her sons safe. But both she and Eric said it felt like a prison. There were security guards, no cellphones allowed, and students weren’t allowed to take anything to school with them — not even backpacks, Tyler said.





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