My Post colleagues Laura Meckler and Hannah Natanson wrote about it in this story, saying:
Weeks before the new school year will start, the trend is a stark sign of how the pandemic will continue to drive inequity in the nation’s education system. But the parents planning or considering this say it’s an extreme answer to an extreme situation.
The issue of inequity is what the following post is all about: how these new pandemic education pods replicate white flight. The phenomenon not only recalls the period when whites in the South resisted the Supreme Court’s 1954 historic school desegregation ruling in Brown v. Board of Education by opening private schools or by creating whites-only public school districts. It also reflects the current practice of school district “secession,” or the splintering off of whiter, wealthier districts from larger, more diverse ones.
This post was written by J.P.B. Gerald and Mira Debs. Gerald (@JPBGerald) is a doctoral student at CUNY — Hunter College, whose research focuses on white supremacy and racism in education. Debs (@mira_debs) is a sociologist who directs Yale University’s Education Studies program and researches school integration.
By J.P.B. Gerald and Mira Debs
The emails follow a common template: “I’m reaching out to see if you know of any recent early education graduates of Yale (with experience in teaching gifted children) in need of a position for the fall.” The mother, or in some cases the personal assistant, asks to be matched to a Yale student or recent graduate who can home-school her child this fall. Half a dozen of these requests have landed in the inbox of Yale’s Education Studies program in the last few weeks, usually from a resident of one of Connecticut’s wealthier towns.
These parents are part of a new movement of “pandemic pods,” parents hiring teachers and tutors or forming a parent cooperative to teach a small number of students at home. Some of these are parents using their financial might to supplement their children’s online education in ways that other parents cannot, and some of these parents have dis-enrolled their children from public school.
The phenomenon is so new that there is no data on how many families are pursuing this option, but it does seem to be rapidly spreading; one Bay Area pandemic pod group set up two weeks ago on Facebook already has more than 10,000 members, and the director of a national home-school association has said that interest in the last few weeks has “literally exploded.”
With covid-19 surging in most parts of the country, federal leaders demanding schools physically reopen and threatening to withhold funds, and district policies that change by the week, parents (ourselves included) are in a desperate bind as they try to figure out a way to keep their jobs, keep their children safe and do what’s best for the community. Keeping your child at home if you have the privilege to do so may seem socially responsible: You are supporting social distancing and making limited classroom space available to other children.
These personal decisions, however, have a collective consequence. If you don’t think it’s safe for your child to return to school, what makes it safe for other children, teachers and staff?
A little while ago, many of the same parents now forming pandemic pods — many of whom are white, affluent, or both — believed strongly in the power of collective action, posting black squares on their social media pages and placing Black Lives Matter signs on their front lawns.
When this potential hypocrisy was pointed out on Twitter, a number of responders wondered what these parents should do instead, or why this was problematic. Unfortunately, although pandemic pods may be a novel development, this pattern of fleeing public education is decades old.
When parents with privilege open their checkbooks and create private one-room schoolhouses for their children, they follow a long pattern of weakening the public education system they leave behind, especially in districts with predominantly black, Latinx, indigenous and low-income students. In the 1960′s, Southern white parents abandoned desegregating public schools to home-school or set up private segregation academies. Around the country, they fled the cities in bursts of white flight to the suburbs.
In the current accountability era, white parents can claim to be race-neutral, buying a house for the Great Schools score at the bottom of the Zillow listing but still perpetuating patterns of school segregation.
During covid-19, privileged families have already emptied wealthy neighborhoods in New York, buying up housing in surrounding areas. Parents seeking in-person options are flocking to private schools, all of which has a deleterious effect on the students with the most need, and the families with fewer means remain disproportionately families of color.
Pandemic pods follow all of these previous patterns of privileged flight, cocoons that may be well-intentioned but with potentially disastrous results for communities currently — and perpetually — in the crosshairs of this country’s oppression.
Many of these parents are politically liberal, but their school choices play right into the privatization playbook of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. As we know from the fight over charter schools and vouchers, a district loses local, state and federal funding for each child who disenrolls from the public system. Combined with budget cuts and teacher hiring freezes, pandemic pods might exacerbate the defunding of traditional public schools.
While some parents argue that by withdrawing from public school they are allowing for more social distancing in school, this supposedly altruistic private learning is a further example of opportunity hoarding. These parents are avoiding the collective action necessary to make districts more supportive of all their learners.
Here’s our advice for worried parents: Stay and fight. If you don’t think the school arrangements are safe for your child, then work to make sure that the schools reopen in a way that is safe for all children, teachers and staff.
The Heroes Act passed by the House would provide close to $60 billion to fund K-12 schools in reopening safely this fall. The Senate just began considering its own legislation. Any additional funding will pay for safety measures and could also support training for remote learning, lower class sizes and even pod-style tutors to support distance learning.
Instead of hiring private tutors, some parents and educators are collectively mobilizing. Parents in Oakland have organized a free summer school program with technology and tech assistance to the community. Next week, New Haven parents and educators are organizing a socially distanced car caravan to the state capital to demand additional funding to reopen.
Parents have immense power if they work together and not in isolation. We need to think critically about what it means to protect our children if that protection takes the form of giving them something that leaves others vulnerable to harm.
The pandemic’s disproportionate effect on communities of color will cause great damage if it destabilizes our public education system, and pandemic pods have a chance to be far more destructive than protective. If we are going to say that black lives matter, then our actions need to match our words.