Our Right to School Choice in Colorado
By Jen Olmstead - 31 August, 2020
What would you do if you didn’t have a choice in your child’s education? This is a question every family in America should be thinking about. My children have always attended their neighborhood school. They love school; learning, socializing, extracurricular activities. While the thought of homeschooling, or private school had crossed our minds as a family, I always felt being in school with their neighborhood peers was the best option for our family. Like many families in Colorado and across our nation, that all changed this past spring and summer. Fortunately, I did not have to worry about my children being forced into a school setting I was not comfortable with. In Colorado, we have fought for our right to school choice, which is the ability for a family to choose the best educational option for their family. There are many states with restrictions regarding school choice.
Our journey has been a long-winded one with many concerns to address. First, like every other family in Colorado, we were thrust into distance learning the remaining of the 19-20 school year. There was a lack of preparation for moving forward with distance learning around the state. Some Districts went out on “Covid” a week before Spring Break and did nothing to prepare during that time, essentially extending the children’s Spring Break. Some Districts took as long as three weeks to put together the distance learning only to not teach anything new the remainder of the year. Some Districts were able to adjust quicker depending on size and resources available. To be fair, this was uncharted territory for our District, and having been in the District for 7 years, I know they did their best with the resources they had available. Though it was not the best academic fit for my children, we worked together to finish the school year strong. Now it was time to enjoy the summer! My husband and I began to discuss the possibilities of what the next year would bring and ended up with more questions than answers.
· Will we go back to school, like nothing had happened?
· Would we be distance learning again?
· What restrictions would there be on in-person learning?
· Would school even start on time? What about the school’s start and end time?
· A question on every parent’s mind: For the schools with in-person learning, will they close again?
The answers to many of these questions differ depending on the District. And too many remain unanswered altogether. To find the options and restrictions for your District go to https://www.greatschools.org/school-district-boundaries-map/ Some districts are offering a choice of in person or distance learning as well as a hybrid of the two. Some are initially offering only distance learning. Our District’s Superintendent made it clear from the beginning that our District would be following the CDC’s guidelines and any State order or directive for in-person learning. This included school Law states the school year must be at least 172 days, average 4 hours per day, and include a range of subjects taught, including those listed in the statute. While there is currently no funding or voucher available to offset the cost of homeschooling purchases, there are options for free or low-cost curriculum available online. The District you send your NOI to may request these records at any time.
· A child may be enrolled in an umbrella school that operates outside of the District’s funding or oversight but will have its own requirements. The wide variety of umbrella schools in the state means that parents can choose how much school involvement they prefer. Some provide curriculum and have requirements that exceed state minimums, while others mimic the first option but provide education resources and community activities to promote social engagement. Some umbrella schools may also help with maintaining records.
· If you or person you designate is a licensed teacher, you may proceed with homeschooling according to Colorado statute minimums and do not need to send a NOI or enroll in an umbrella school.
I happen to be a licensed teacher, but any Colorado family could choose one of these routes for homeschooling.
We ultimately decided homeschooling would be the best fit for our family in the 2020-2021 school year. I found the following resources helpful as I started to piece it all together:
· The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) website is a great starting point for homeschooling questions and state requirements https://www.cde.state.co.us/choice/homeschool_law,
· The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) website provides statute information for each state. HSLDA also offers membership options in order to access legal advice and protection should an issue arise with the District or Child Protective Services https://hslda.org/,
· There are also many homeschooling Facebook groups to get a general idea of what homeschooling looks like, get recommendations on curriculum, and to connect with other homeschooling families in your area and throughout the state.
Regardless of what option you choose, be aware that in Colorado you have the ultimate say in your child’s education, and you have many options to choose from. Go here for more information on school choice options in Colorado http://cde.state.co.us/choice Having many options is not the case in other states. Check out these sites to learn more about options in other states: https://hslda.org/ , https://www.edchoice.org/ , https://www.ncsl.org/research/education/interactive-guide-to-school-choice.aspx This hard-earned right should not be taken lightly. We must continue to stand up and fight to protect this right. Each year, Colorado legislators attempt to weaken or chip away at school choice, as well as erode our right to a free public education by enacting new or more restrictive requirements. Follow https://www.justdefy.org/ throughout the legislative season to stay in the know on bills that threaten your right to determine your child’s educational path and sign up for activism alerts to protect your rights.