Letter: Online charter schools provide alternative during COVID-19

The Detroit News

As the summer days pass by and many states begin to reopen, the questions at the front of mind for parents, students, and educators are: Will schools reopen? Will there be another spike that causes schools to close again? Will teachers feel safe returning to the classroom?

And most importantly, will parents feel safe sending their children back?

This last question is, for many families, intensely personal. Some health experts say children should return to avoid isolation, and that is reasonable in many cases. But there are a wide range of factors to consider that are unique to every family, including at-risk relatives, employment circumstances, and individual beliefs. Parents need options during this difficult time. Fortunately, Michigan’s state policymakers have cultivated an environment where parents have quality, realistic alternatives when it comes to their child’s education. 

And the time to possibly explore those alternatives is now.

Even with preventative measures in place, many parents won’t feel safe, Garcia writes.

Many reopening plans for public schools include preventive measures to keep students safe: social distancing, face masks, increased cleaning, and other common-sense approaches. But even with these preventive measures in place, many parents won’t feel safe. A recent national survey of 2,000 parents of children enrolled in elementary through high schools indicated that 1 in 5 students will likely not return to traditional schools in the fall due to concerns related to the spread of COVID-19, leaving millions of K-12 students searching for alternatives.   

For these families, I would suggest giving online charter schools a hard look. These options aren’t new. In fact, they’re well established here in Michigan. Many families — mine included — have long been sending their children to online charter school. The decision for us came prior to our daughter’s sophomore year of high school. Between some personal health issues and social pressures, our daughter’s grades, mental health, and self-esteem were all suffering in her traditional brick-and-mortar school.

That all changed for the better after making the move to online school. Our daughter’s grades have improved dramatically. In fact, she’s made the honor roll every semester! And the flexibility online school provides has made navigating her health issues and doctor’s appointments so much easier. Now, through a unique early middle college program offered through her school and in conjunction with Baker College, she is on track to graduate with her high diploma as well as an associate’s degree in business administration all at absolutely no cost to us!

In short, we cannot say enough positive things about our experience with online learning and the great success our daughter has had with it, and it’s an option available to all parents as we trek through this global health crisis.

No one could have predicted this pandemic, so I do not want to blame anyone for being unprepared; but the simple truth is many school districts aren’t equipped to fully implement an online education plan effectively, and they may not even have the technology or resources to make remote learning as successful as it can be. Students, especially those with individualized learning plans, may slip through the cracks without a good plan in place.

None of these potential pitfalls exist at any of Michigan’s online charter schools — a fact that’s worth some serious reflection with a new school year looming and a return to normalcy nowhere in sight.  

Our family’s experience with online learning is proof that students can successfully transition to full time online learning without sacrificing a child’s education and development. We’re lucky to live in a state where lawmakers have worked to protect and grow this alternative learning environment over the years.

Online charter school is an option that’s available to all families here in Michigan. And now more than ever, it’s an alternative to seriously consider.

Deana Garcia, mother of student at Highpoint Virtual Academy