For Beth Ann Rosica’s two middle school sons, virtual learning has been “a catastrophe.”

“Last spring was horrible,” she said. “My kids were miserable and unhappy. They hated doing online learning. It was an absolute catastrophe in our house. Meltdowns every day.”

Like the majority of public school students, Rosica’s boys—who are in grades six and eight—were forced to start the fall 2020 school year online when their West Chester, PA, school district shut down in-person education. After concluding that continuing online learning wasn’t an option for her youngest son, Rosica enrolled him in a private school.

“Fortunately, we are in the position that we can afford private school,” she said. “He’s much happier than he certainly would’ve been if he was at home.”

Her older son didn’t want to change schools. Rosica and her husband are doing what they can to support him, but it’s an uphill battle because of the stresses of online learning.

“This is a kid who’s always been a straight A student,” she said. “Now he’s become this angry, surly, upset young man who is failing a class.”

“He’s telling me he’s done. He’s had enough.”

While Rosica’s older son is stuck learning at home in front of a computer all day, a few miles away her younger son is thriving at his new, in-person private school.

As concerned as she is about her own children, Rosica fears what’s happening to educationally disadvantaged children nationwide. “We are in a public health emergency because our children are not in school,” she said, citing the rising numbers in teen suicide, substance abuse, and other issues. “And yet, all anyone is concerned about is physical health.” 

Frustrated with her school district and the obscure rules handed down to them from the state capitol, Rosica teamed up with a group of West Chester parents to advocate for more choice in schooling options. As part of the effort, they created a survey that has garnered over 1,500 responses from families in 54 different school districts across Pennsylvania. Among the most troubling findings: one in three parents say that their children’s mental health is worse or significantly worse than a year ago, and nearly one in three say their children are falling behind or not really learning.

“As a parent, it is so upsetting and depressing to watch your child fall apart in front of your eyes, and there’s no end in sight,” Rosica said of the area’s COVID-19 rules.

According to the survey, the vast majority of parents want schools to provide an option for in-person classes immediately.

“Our teachers are essential workers, and they need to be back in the classroom,” Rosica said. “Our kids need to be back in the classroom.”

For families uncomfortable with sending their children to in-person school, the school district provides that option. But for those children who want to be back in the classroom, “they deserve that right and they deserve that choice,” Rosica said.