When Sharon Jackson looks out on the mid-pandemic landscape of New York City, she sees a scary place for a sixth grader. Her daughter, Sophia, just graduated from the kind of Lower Manhattan public school where the PTA can easily raise money for iPads and SMART Boards. Jackson liked that Sophia’s days were structured, and that she was able to make a handful of close friends. The past six months, however, have left Jackson wary of how school might affect her child. For one thing, Sophia doesn’t like wearing masks. “If we go to Whole Foods, she’ll put it on, but she just feels very restricted,” Jackson told me. At home, there’s no need for such barriers: “She can do her studies in her underwear.”
Jackson has started noticing more unhoused people in the park near her apartment in Tribeca. The city “feels less safe in general to me right now,” Jackson, who is white, said, citing “the rioting, the rowdiness, the random acts of violence happening.” (While shootings have spiked in New York this summer, the overall crime rate has remained flat, and far below the high crime levels of the 1980s and ’90s, according to a recent New York Times report.) With protesters calling on the government to defund the police, she feels as if “there’s less protection” in the city. With families facing economic hardship and the city on edge, Jackson fears Sophia could be exposed to danger. “You don’t know if there’s a kid in the classroom [whose] parents are going through a tough time, and maybe that child would act out and snap and decide they want to hit another kid,” she said. And when a vaccine for COVID-19 eventually arrives, Jackson is worried that New York officials will make proof of vaccination mandatory for kids to attend public schools. “I’m not comfortable with a vaccine that’s not rigorously tested,” Jackson said. “To expose her to something that just is so questionable doesn’t seem like a sound decision.” Before the pandemic, she never wanted to homeschool her daughter. Now, she said, it seems like her best option.