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Parents Are Fed Up, Turn to Pandemic Pods and Other Alternatives

From disappointment with the local school district’s reopening plans to distress over the shift in public school’s purpose, parents are leaving public schools and running to alternative options such as pandemic “pods” (also referred to as learning pods or just pods).

For many of these families, public school was the default option pre-COVID. But following the catastrophe of remote learning and teachers’ unions using children as hostages rather than working to open schools safely, families are fed up. As Inez Feltscher Stepman writes in The American Mind, “teachers’ unions and districts have chosen this moment to fully reveal how low students and families are on their list of priorities.”

Union and district representatives have been relentlessly encouraging parents to avoid homeschooling or learning pods for the sake of “equity,” ignoring that shoddy distance learning also widens education gaps. Even more blatantly self-serving is their demand that parents lie to the state and enroll their children for the funds even if they plan to provide alternate learning environments.

The message from unions and district schools to struggling parents during this difficult time cannot be described as anything but tone-deaf. Many—perhaps millions—of families are getting a hard wake-up call that the current public school system places the needs of their children last while advancing nakedly partisan self-interest. “We don’t owe you an education for your child,” schools are indirectly telling parents. “But you owe us your tax dollars.”

We won’t know public school enrollment numbers until they are released later on this fall, but based on polling, Facebook groups and local chapters, and parents notifying states of their intentions to withdraw from public schools, public school leadership and the teachers’ unions need to take note. They are leaving parents without good options but then deriding parents’ decisions to choose a learning environment that works best for their child. Such criticism is misguided.

Education is for kids. Parents should be empowered to access a learning option that provides their child with an education that meets his or her need. Pods, which existed pre-COVID, are giving students that chance. And there is a way to make sure all families can access this learning environment if they so desire: education savings accounts. By funding students instead of systems, by allowing tax dollars to flow directly to parents to give them the flexibility they desire and deserve, equal education opportunities would be a reality for all families.

For general information on pods, how to start one, and extra resources on what they offer, check out this excellent article provided by National School Choice Week.

Below are Minnesota’s different policy requirements on records, reporting and registration for pods.

Self-Directed Pods:

If your learning pod or micro-school is choosing its own curriculum and each family is directing their own children’s schooling, it likely qualifies as a homeschool in Minnesota. Read more about the requirements for homeschooling and get tips from HSLDA here. Note that homeschoolers may be eligible to receive limited tax exemptions from the State of Minnesota to cover costs related to instruction, field trips, and parental time. Additionally, Minnesota homeschoolers may still be eligible to participate in classes, sports, or activities at local public schools.

If your learning pod contains more than two families and will have teachers leading unique classes just for your school, it may qualify as a private school. You can read more about what Minnesota classifies as a private school, how they’re regulated, and how to start one here.

Learning Support Pods:

If your child is going to be enrolled in remote learning through your local public school and supervised by an adult in your learning pod, you do not need to register as a homeschool or private school. Keep in mind that you have multiple online learning options, including several free, full-time online schools that are available to students statewide. You can learn more about those here.

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