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‘The best thing I can do for her is just to take matters into my own hands’ | Inside parents’ decision to homeschool during pandemic chaos

Parents all over the DMV are struggling with the decision of how to educate their children during the uncertainty of the pandemic.

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — “One day, she finally said, 'School is supposed to be fun,'" 8-year-old Alina Wright says, remembering her and her mom's breaking point with homeschooling. "I told her, 'This is not fun. This is just garbage.'"

Like families across the DMV, the Wrights, who live in Fairfax County, have been forced by the pandemic to try to figure out education at home – not knowing what school may look like in the fall.

For 8-year-old Alina, who just finished second grade at Lane Elementary, the experience has been less than ideal.

“When I'm done, I always just want to take something to just destroy it,” Alina said, visibly frustrated. “I just want to rip all these pages out!”

Credit: WUSA9
Lane Elementary School in Fairfax County.

WUSA9 asked the Wrights to share their trials with virtual learning with us. Fairfax County in particular has seen ongoing issues with its online learning portal, and Blackboard, the vendor it chose initially to facilitate distance learning with students.

RELATED: Fairfax County schools transition away from Blackboard for distance learning, parents voice frustrations with issues

RELATED: FCPS’s second attempt at digital learning fails, district hires law firm to look into it

Wright asked Alina to go back to demonstrate Blackboard for us, which prompted an unusually curt response for an 8-year-old: “Fine, this sucks."

From Blackboard, Alina's classes moved to Google Classrooms, which the Wrights described as “glitchy.” That forced Wright, like many parents, to transition from mom to teacher.

“There's too many different things that you have to click to get to the activity that they need to do, so I definitely would have to sit here and guide her through it,” Wright said.

The Wrights aren't alone. A new national Gallup poll shows 56% of parents said remote learning was "difficult" for their household, including 16% who described it as "very difficult."

Eventually, the Wrights decided to purchase their own homeschooling program, which offers a different online curriculum. It's elicited a completely different reaction from Alina.

“Yay,” she shouted when her mom asked her to walk us through it.

For this coming fall, Fairfax County Public Schools just decided to start with full-time online learning. 

In a virtual meeting, the superintendent said they're following the science and the guidance of national, state and local health authorities.

According to the district website, for online learning, most teachers will once again choose between Blackboard and Google Classrooms.

A district spokeswoman told us the experience "will look different" than the spring, with changes including: “more time in face-to-face, interactive (synchronous) learning, online attendance, grading of assignments and assessments, and laptop access for all students.”

Wright fears the inconsistency that caused so much frustration in the spring could be repeated in the fall.

“If you constantly change it, I can't have faith in anything,” she said. “I can't trust you that you're going to follow through with something because you keep throwing it up in the air.”

RELATED: LIST: Back-to-school plans for districts across the DMV

So, the Wrights are now going to pull Alina out of FCPS and home-school her for third grade.

“At this point, I feel like the best thing I can do for her is just to take matters into my own hands, spend our own money and provide whatever resources I can for her,” Wright said.

We asked the school system to respond to the concerns. A spokeswoman couldn't provide an on-camera interview.

"This has been and continues to be a tough situation that continues to evolve; all of us have to make changes in order to adapt,” FCPS said in a written statement. “Ultimately, we have asked everyone to make a choice that is best for their student."

For parents, that choice could have bigger implications and leads to a major fear: is this situation putting their children's future in jeopardy?

“[I worry] if she is growing and if she is ready for third grade, because I have no idea if she's even ready for third grade,” Wright said.

When Alina responded, “probably not,” Wright despaired. 

“Don't say probably not. Let's have faith that you are, ok? Let's have faith that we've done the right thing," she said.

A spokesperson told WUSA9 they encourage parents to notify the school district of their intent to withdraw their children by August 17.

RELATED: Fairfax County teachers push for district to change its mind and choose a 100% virtual start

RELATED: Loudoun County Public Schools will be 100% virtual learning for start of 2020-2021 academic year

RELATED: VA family considers moving over school district's virtual learning plans

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