Parents Delaying Preschool, Kindergarten Amid Pandemic

Claire Reagan was feeling overwhelmed as her oldest child’s first day of kindergarten approached and with a baby on the way. The 5-year-old boy has autism, and she worried he would struggle with juggling in-person and virtual learning, and that she wouldn’t have enough time to give him the help he needs.

So she decided to wait a year before sending him to school.

“I was stressed about everything and then thought ‘Why does he need to start kindergarten?’ And it was like a weight was lifted,” said Reagan, a 36-year-old high school teacher in the Kansas City suburb of Olathe, Kansas.

Thousands of parents around the U.S. have made similar decisions, having their children delay or skip kindergarten because of the coronavirus pandemic. The opt outs, combined with huge declines in preschool enrollment, are raising worries about the long-term effects of so much lost early education.

“If there is a group for which you would be particularly concerned, it is these very young students who are not having these foundational experiences,” said Nate Schwartz, a professor at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University.

In Los Angeles’ public schools, kindergarten enrollment is down about 6,000 students, or 14%. In Nashville, Tennessee, public kindergarten enrollment is down about 1,800 students, or 37%, from last year.

Some parents feel their children may be ready for in-person school but not for virtual school, said Anna Markowitz, an assistant professor of education at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“They are thinking I can’t work and monitor my child’s Zoom schooling. Parents are really in an impossible situation,” she said.

Only 17 states and Washington, D.C., require children to attend kindergarten, Markowitz said. Parents elsewhere can bypass kindergarten and just send their children to first grade next fall. In a typical year, only about 4% of children who are eligible to begin kindergarten are held back by their families, said Chloe Gibbs, a Notre Dame economist.

Photo: Getty Images

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