Learning at home, online learning, self quarantine concept. Family at home. Children doing homework with books, textbooks and with computer online, mother help to kids
August 2020

Private School? Homeschool? Public School?

Let’s Look at the Options for 2020

By Suki Wessling

Learning at home, online learning, self quarantine concept. Family at home. Children doing homework with books, textbooks and with computer online, mother help to kidsAt the time of this writing, one month before school starts, a lot of school parents are in limbo, not knowing what school will look like for their students. Some are considering alternatives to their neighborhood schools. So what are the options?

Move to private school?
Most local private schools have announced plans to reopen site-based instruction part- or full-time. If you’ve been thinking about trying private school anyway, this may be a good time to explore the options. Smaller schools do have more flexibility. However, all schools will have to change their plans if the county is moved back into Phase 1 due to rising virus numbers. Also, a new bill for full-time education/childcare might not be in the budget for a family that lost part or all of their expected income this spring.
Another option is to move to private online schools or classes. There are some private online schools that offer full-time, credentialed education. There are also many providers of a la carte online classes that can be taken as part of any of the following educational plans.

Use a public independent study (IS) school?
Santa Cruz County is home to a number of special programs that serve students with low- or non-site-based options, including Davenport School, Branciforte Small Schools, and Ocean Alternative. These are tried-and-true low-residential programs with experienced local teachers. These programs are currently enrolling students, though they may restrict enrollment to students in-district.

Santa Cruz also offers a number of non-site-based IS programs, such as Oasis Charter School. Ocean Grove is a popular one for homeschoolers, but they already report a long waitlist. Online virtual academies offer a more traditional self-paced public school curriculum. California Connections Academy Monterey Bay reports open spots, and most of the districts are working on plans for starting their own virtual academies.

The functioning of independent study programs is going to be largely unaffected by public health concerns. However, enrollment in these programs is expected to be restricted for two reasons. First, the state has frozen spending at 2019-20 levels for public schools. Unless the state passes a fix, these schools will not be able to take more students than they did last year.

Another factor is AB-1505, the restrictive charter school law passed in October. AB-1505 froze the development of new IS charters due to the negligence of a few bad actors in the industry, a decision that now restricts schools serving at-risk families during a pandemic.

And then there’s homeschooling…
Three important facts to keep in mind:

  • California is one of the easiest states to homeschool in
  • Homeschooling done right is one of the most effective modes of education
  • Homeschooling may or may not be the right option for your family


In order to legally homeschool in California, families need to do two things. First, file a Private School Affidavit (PSA) in October. It’s free and online: cde.ca.gov/sp/ps/affidavit.asp. Second, families need to keep a small amount of simple paperwork.

Homeschooling works best with community support, especially during a pandemic. Homecruzers is a lively Facebook group that’s a good local source for online information. The Discovery Learning Center offers community support for homeschoolers.

Homeschooling is the most flexible mode of education, and studies have shown that students homeschooled by supportive parents have excellent outcomes. Especially in the K-6 years, there are no drawbacks to “living a learning lifestyle” and following your children’s interests if you have flexibility in your schedule. (See accompanying article Six Ways to Care for Kids During the Pandemic.)

Maybe I should just stick with our public school
No one can tell you what’s right for your family, and of course, most families will stick with their public schools. The Legislature’s decision to award neighborhood public schools their same allotment of funding regardless of their enrollment this year was a necessary step in stabilizing the system. Even if there is a full-scale exodus from the public schools this fall, neighborhood schools will need secure funding in order to keep providing the services they are required to provide.

However, it’s unlikely that there will be a full-scale exodus from the public schools. Most families do want teachers to guide their kids. And many parents need the childcare aspect of school to restart, in order to get back to their own jobs.

We are all in limbo

It’s easier for some than others to be flexible. But at least we know this: We are all in this together. No matter what mode of education your family decides on this fall, remember that your positive support of your students, their teachers, and your educational community is what makes education successful.

Suki Wessling is a local writer and teacher. Her two children, now grown, homeschooled and attended private and public schools during their education. She teaches online courses for gifted homeschoolers and writes about education, homeschooling, parenting, and gifted children. Read more at SukiWessling.com.

Distance and Alternative education programs:
*Compiled by Heddi Craft

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