One of the most significant changes that we have had to undergo in our country and across the world during the pandemic was changes to our schools and the way our children are educated. Many of us took for granted the ability of our students to physically attend class in person with their teacher each school day. When social distancing became the norm not only do we have our health to be concerned with but we had differing value systems and approaches to education with the added specter of risk. Needless to say, different people held different opinions about this subject. 

As far as I can tell, they were two schools of thought when it came to remote versus in-person schooling during the pandemic. The first school of thought fell into the category of approaching the topic as it’s better to be safe than sorry. Meaning that schools should be closed to any person learning until authorities and medical experts can determine that the spread of the virus is low in that particular area or that vaccines have become accessible to the general population. To these folks any risk of harm to children or teachers was too much to tolerate in remote learning should be the norm.

On the other hand, other people tended to believe that children were not significant drivers of the spread of the virus and that mitigation methods were available that could significantly reduce the risk of harm to students and teachers alike. Many areas, including mine here in the Houston area, tended to side with these folks and had school open into in-person learning basically throughout the pandemic. Ultimately we may never know which side was more correct or frankly if that even matters. However, what it did do is show that there is a range of perspectives on the subject of in-person versus remote learning.

Although this may come as a shock for many of you reading this blog post this pandemic will come to an end at some point. At that point, the discussion will not be so much on remote learning versus in-person learning but rather on the viability of remote learning in the long term. Traditionally, education has been a classroom/school/brick-and-mortar situation. However, as technology has progressed so too has our ability to hold classes remotely and with some level of success. 

What we in the world of family law need to ask ourselves is how viable remote schooling is for the typical family in a “normal”, non-pandemic environment. What do you as a well-informed parent need to know before discussing this subject with your co-parent if you are going through a divorce or child custody case? How can you approach the subject of online or remote schooling with your child? These are the main questions and topics that we will be discussing with you today in our blog post.

Remote education and homeschooling in Texas

Before we get into the details of my thoughts on these topics I would like to make known that I am not an expert on online or remote schooling. However, I have worked in the world of family law for years and do have children of my own. With that said, I do have experience in listening to the concerns of families in our area and have a good idea about how remote learning has impacted our ability to educate our children. 

For those of you who are unfamiliar, I would like to discuss what online or remote learning looks like in Texas. As a parent, you are obligated to provide your child with an education. This is true whether or not you are going through a family law case or are not. Your child must attend schooling that I approved by the state of Texas until he or she reaches the age of 16. For many of you reading this blog post that means sending your child to the public school that is zoned to your home. In large part, property owners pay taxes and those taxes fund public schools in our state. 

While remote or online schooling is relatively new due to recent improvements in technology the idea of schooling your child away from a standard in-person schooling environment is far from new. Homeschooling has been a study source of education for our children since formal schooling began. Odds are good that all of us know at least one or two families who homeschool their children either now or when we were children ourselves. The difference is that homeschooling now can take on different components given the proliferation of technology in the space of remote learning in online education.

For many students, online and remote schooling may serve some sort of benefit. These students may suffer from “bullying” at school, have attention deficit issues, or other psychological problems that lead to them struggling in classroom environments. If your student has anxiety or other issues like this surrounding socializing or test-taking in a school environment then remote learning may work to their benefit- at least in this regard. None of these sound like permanent fixes to any of these issues but that is a conversation for another day. 

On the other hand, I have come to find out that many, if not most, parents have expressed some degree of frustration with online schooling- at least the version that most of us have come to familiarize ourselves with during this pandemic. The degree to which online schooling took over for at least the Spring semester in 2020 was enough to make your head spin. It was quite a change for most parents to endure. While it was understandable to see some degree of change based on the newness of the pandemic, the degree to which many children struggled with the new setup was legitimate. 

With that said, if you are considering online schooling then you should come to familiarize yourself with some of the challenges that are associated with this version of education for your child. Just because there are challenges does not mean that you should not consider online or remote schooling for your child. However, as many if not all school districts in our area move to solely in-person learning in 2021 and beyond, the main options for online schools appear to be private schools or purely online curricula-based schools. 

Equipment concerns for online school 

When I was going through school in the 1990s and very early 2000s, relatively little of our school work required the use of technology. Sure, we had computer assignments and spent time learning how to type and perform basic research on the internet. However, it was nothing compared to what school kids today can use towards their daily learning. For comparison’s sake, we didn’t even have a computer in my house growing up. I don’t know how many people can say the same in 2021, but I’m guessing most everyone reading this blog post has a small, handheld computer in their pocket right now. 

To be able to perform the basic operations of online school, you and your student need to be able to have a computer available to you all. Each school may use different types of software or programs on a computer but I would imagine that an internet connection is about all you would need these days to view any “classroom” material with teachers and get access to quizzes, tests, and lesson materials. Wireless internet, therefore, would be important if not essential to this activity. Certain internet providers may even apply discounts to your bill if it is for online education. 

School supplies are probably less of a concern now than in generations past, but having basics like pens, pencils, notebooks, loose-leaf paper and things of this nature would seem to be helpful. “Scratch paper” as I called it back in the old days. The costs of these sorts of materials are relatively minor and probably would not be something to concern yourself with all that much in a divorce or child custody case. However, it would be wise to have discussed these issues with your co-parent in mediation to determine how to split up these costs before the end of your divorce. 

Otherwise, the actual equipment that is necessary for online schooling is likely pretty limited. Online parenting groups are available to ask questions and get ideas for how to structure your child’s day in terms of learning and taking breaks are concerned. The major component to this question is the age of your child. Older children likely are better equipped to take time to devote to their studies more so than younger children who may need more breaks. Depending on your child’s program you should look into this issue to determine if your child is a good fit for online school based on the school’s scheduling. 

Potential drawbacks of online school

When we’re talking about online in remote schooling we need to be able, to be honest with ourselves about the potential drawbacks. Like anything else in life, there is no purely good or purely bad outcome or event. There are always side effects, positives, and drawbacks to every situation that we encounter as human beings. Online remote school, while it may have served a purpose in some regards for a certain period, is not without its flaws. This section of today’s blog post is not intended to dissuade you from attempting remote or online school but I am attempting to share with you my thoughts and observations on remote schooling.

For one, children, like all of us, are inherently social beings. We crave contact with one another on a consistent and sustained basis. If that wasn’t abundantly clear before the beginning of this pandemic, then it should be by this stage. Given what we know about children and how they accepted online and remote learning during the pandemic I can’t say that every child would be able to thrive in an environment where he or she comes into contact sporadically with other children. Socialization and a consistent schedule outside of the home are positive factors that in-person schooling offers whereas remote schooling does not.

I’m not going to spend today’s blog posts getting into a discussion about the mental health of children. However, all you would need to do is simply perform an Internet search for children’s mental health during the pandemic and you will see many articles that link to studies showing that children suffered a great deal mentally when it came to their mental health. Even little things like being able to have recess, lunch next to their friends, and extracurricular activities have reportedly played a large role in the worsening of our children’s mental health during the pandemic. Remote education played a role in this, it would seem. 

Another major consideration for you and your family would be how well you all can keep your child involved in their schoolwork even when times are tough, and schedules get busy. With remote or online schooling there is less accountability on a moment-to-moment basis for your child’s teachers. Therefore, it is important for you to be more involved and to keep your child on a schedule that allows him to attend class and return assignments on a timely basis. 

From my experience, not every parent who likes the idea of online or remote schooling takes this part of the equation as seriously as they should. There is a major difference between enrolling your child in online school and then making sure, on a day-to-day basis, that your child is attending to their schoolwork and going to class every single day. I have unfortunately seen what can happen when a parent enrolls their child in an online school but lacks the wherewithal, desire, or time to ensure your child attends the school consistently. 

What should you be thinking about when it comes to your child and remote schooling?

The most basic concern that I would have when it comes to remote schooling as a part of a family law case is your ability to ensure that your child attends school every day of the week and turns in their assignments on time. This is a challenge for many parents even in a standard, in-person school environment. There is an even greater responsibility put on parents in an online and remote environment in this regard. If you are your child’s primary conservator then you will have the primary responsibility to handle their schooling. 

Next, you and your child’s co-parent need to be on the same page when it comes to online schooling. It is possible to go to trial and win on the issue of your child going to online school. However, it is a much better position for your child to be in for you two to agree on sending your child to online school versus in-person school. That means that you must be able to convince your co-parent of the merits of online schooling. 

Next, you should pay close attention to the conservatorship rights that are a part of your court orders. Conservatorship rights have to do with your ability to make decisions on behalf of your child regarding their lives. Specifically, their education falls into this category. In many divorce and child custody cases, parents will split rights to make decisions when it comes to their child’s education. You need to work with your attorney to determine what works best for your family and most importantly what works best for your child. 

Does your child have any special needs? If so, then you may need to re-think your desire to have your child attend online or remote schooling. In many cases, if your child has a physical or mental impairment then you may find that your child needs to go to school In person. Most school districts and public schools have programs available to assist children with developmental delays. I can’t say that the same is true for online or remote schools. However, you would need to do the leg work when it comes to this sort of subject matter. This is not a subject to go into with a casual attitude. 

The decisions that you make regarding your child’s education are some of the most crucial that you will encounter as a parent. As a result, if you want your child to be able to attend an online school or your co-parent wants this, then you need to have the perspective of an experienced attorney to assist you in arriving at an outcome that is the best for your child. There are many moving pieces when it comes to this subject. When taking into consideration remote learning you will be living with the consequences of your decisions for years to come. 

Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of family law and also about how your family’s circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.