Virtual learning is taking a toll on Chloe Dixon’s children. 

Dixon took her eldest daughter out of public school because of mental health issues. She was able to send the girl to private school, but her two other children are still in public school in Cumberland County, where instruction is entirely virtual. 

The two students are struggling academically, emotionally. 

“There are tears every day,” Dixon said. 

Dixon and two other mothers Monday, Oct. 5, shared their stories in a roundtable discussion with North Carolina legislators and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. 

Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina hosted the event, which included Sens. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham; Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth; and Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, didn’t attend the event, but his spokesman, Joseph Kyzer, took his place. 

For most North Carolina students, a good chunk of the school year has been spent in front of a computer screen. At the start of the fall semester, Gov. Roy Cooper gave school districts a choice between full-time remote learning and a hybrid model. 

Cooper on Sept. 17 announced he would allow districts to decide whether to let elementary students return to school full-time.

For some families, it’s too little, too late. 

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen students with special needs get left behind as they struggle behind a computer, single-parents families have been put into the impossible situation of juggling work, distance learning, and accessing child care,” Mike Long, president of PEFNC, told the roundtable attendees. 

Those who need the most help and support have been most hurt by remote learning, Long said. 

Parents should decide how and where their children learn, DeVos said. Money should follow the student.

The Opportunity Scholarship program is one way parents can take control, Long said. Through the program, low- and middle-income families receive financial help for their school of choice. 

It’s through the OSP that Jessica Edwards can send her 9-year-old daughter to private school. 

Edwards’ son excelled in public school, but her daughter struggled. The girl has ADHD and needs more attention and care. More than what she was receiving at her public school. 

Edwards turned to the OSP after the General Assembly raised income eligibility for the program. She plans to send her daughter to private school when a spot is available. 

The change was part of the General Assembly’s third COVID-19 relief package. Lawmakers set aside millions for the program to offer more scholarships to families. The General Assembly distributed more than $6 million to help eliminate waitlists for the Children with Disabilities Grant Program and the Education Savings Account Program.

The N.C. Association of Educators wants to do away with the voucher program. If it succeeds, it’s parents like Melanie Osborne, whose five daughters use the vouchers, who’ll suffer. 

A group of parents, supported by the NCAE and the National Education Association, filed a lawsuit July 27 challenging the constitutionality of the Opportunity Scholarship program. The lawsuit threatens the educational future of more than 12,000 students using private school vouchers. The case is currently pending in Wake County Superior Court

“I’m not sure I would feel as hopeful without the Opportunity Scholarship program,” Osborne said.