Kindergartener Chloe Scott works on a reading project in a classroom at Aragon Elementary in Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 in 2019. This year, school districts are reporting declines in kindergarten enrollment, likely due to coronavirus fears. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

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By Chandra Thomas Whitfield, Chalkbeat Colorado

Mattye Crowley spent most of her summer agonizing over whether to enroll her 5-year-old son in kindergarten at their neighborhood school this fall.

The west Denver single mother, who also has an 8-year-old son in the third grade, said she feared for her children’s safety as the number of COVID-19 cases in Colorado rose over the summer, and she was also concerned that the virtual learning most Denver schools required for at least the start of the school year would not be a good fit.

She reluctantly signed her children up for Fairview Elementary, but two weeks into the virtual learning program, she withdrew them. The school expected the children to be online from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., far more screen time than she thought was healthy, and she was stressed out trying to keep both her children on task.

“So, I’m sitting between them, getting on both of their cases, like ‘concentrate,’ yet I’m falling asleep listening to the material — and I’m the mom,” she said.

MORE: Colorado governor pleads with parents to sign their kids up for school as state faces enrollment declines

Despite her concerns about virtual education, Crowley also fears that Denver Public Schools has pushed to resume in-person schooling too soon. She has chosen to home-school both of her children full time for the indefinite future. She considers it a safer, more flexible, and impactful option, but juggling teaching her children while managing her small educational curriculum startup has been tough.

“I’m doing it without money; I’m doing the bare minimum, just making it by,” Crowley said. “As long as they’re breathing, that’s my job. As long as the lights are on, as long as there’s food in the refrigerator. We’re not going to have all of the entertainment that we like, we’re not going to have everything that we’re used to, but as long as we’re alive, we still have a chance to get back where we left off [before the pandemic]; but not if we’re dead.”

Crowley is among thousands of Colorado parents who have grappled with the same heart-wrenching dilemma and ultimately decided not to enroll their children in kindergarten — which is optional in the state — for the 2020-21 school year. Although official enrollment numbers have not yet been finalized, many districts are reporting a decline in kindergarten enrollment believed to be due to the pandemic.

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