MILWAUKEE — Wednesday marked the first day back to school for most students across southeastern Wisconsin, but for a growing number of families, that means staying right at home.
Thousands of students in Milwaukee have been learning from home since the pandemic began. While a majority of families rush to get their kids back in the classroom, a Wauwatosa mother says she’s seeing a flood of parents gearing up for another school year at home.
“There’s a lot of parents that are expecting the school district to go back to virtual at some point, so they just want to stay at home instead of having to transition back and forth,” Kerry Krienitz said. “I think a greater emphasis for a lot of parents is the desire to not have their children in a mask all day.”
Krienitz has been homeschooling her two sons for the past four years. Before the pandemic began, she launched a Facebook group to offer advice and curriculum suggestions to other homeschooling parents in the Milwaukee area. She says the group grew rapidly within the past few months.
“There was like 80 people in the group and now there’s over 300,” Krienitz said.
Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction says about 27,000 students were homeschooled last school year, which was about 10,000 more than the year prior.
Nationally, the U.S. Census Bureau reports the rate of homeschoolers doubled from 5.4 percent in the spring of 2020 to 11 percent six months later.
Krienitz believes the surge came from parents who were worried their kids would fall behind in a virtual learning model.
“I think virtual distance learning is untenable for most working parents,” she said. “It is a very long day, they’re playing secretary to their children, getting them online, getting them to their next meeting and it just was really frustrating to a lot of parents.”
Krienitz says Wisconsin laws are lenient when it comes to homeschooling kids. Parents need to fill out a form of intent with the state, then provide 875 hours of instruction per year for kids ages 6 to 18. But unlike some other states, homeschooled children in Wisconsin are not required to take the state’s standardized tests.
“My particular homeschool style has a great emphasis on what the boys are interested in, so we kind of let their own curiosity direct our day, along with the fundamentals,” she said.
Krienitz understands that not every parent has the flexibility to be at home during the day, but she says homeschooling only takes her about three hours a day during the school year.
While all of the major school districts in our area are returning to in-person instruction this school year, many of them continue to offer a virtual learning option.
Milwaukee Public Schools says around 1,600 of its 80,000 students enrolled in their virtual program this fall. Racine Unified School District says about 350 students opted into their remote learning option. In both school districts, that’s about 2 percent of the student population.