My twin boys spent kindergarten on Zoom. I watched their love of learning wither away.

Here we go again.

That’s the thought going through my head now that in-person school closures are coming back. And I’m not alone. Every parent I know is asking the same thing. How can we do this again? How can they do this to our kids again? My twin boys have already suffered from the lost months of learning. They are just getting adjusted to being back in school. Any progress they’ve made would fall apart if we go back to virtual.

I can’t do it again. More important, my boys can’t do it again.

I’ll never forget their first day of kindergarten in 2020. I didn’t drop them off at school. I didn’t walk them to their classroom. I didn’t hug them tight, kiss their foreheads, and then wave and smile and try not to cry as they entered a new and exciting world. How I wish I had been able to do that.

Trapped in flat, emotionless screens

Instead, we had to sit in front of computers day after day. My boys went from happy little guys who loved learning to frustrated little boys who hated their day-to-day life. No wonder: They were out of the classroom for seven months straight, trapped in front of a flat emotionless screen.

Have you ever watched a kindergartner try to learn over Zoom? It breaks your heart. They want to play with their classmates, learn with their hands, move around and explore their surroundings, and just figure out what’s going on, the way kids do. My boys couldn’t do any of that. They couldn’t do what they need to do at that critical stage in their lives.

Ryan and Jessie Bagos with their sons in Royal Oak, Mich., in August 2021.
Ryan and Jessie Bagos with their sons in Royal Oak, Mich., in August 2021.

Instead, they had to learn how to mute, unmute and navigate a computer. They were very shy at first and didn’t want to raise their hand to ask or answer a question, and when they finally got the courage to do so, the teacher couldn’t see them on the screen and they wouldn’t get called on. Plus, they were only given a short amount of time to finish an assignment and then had to hold it up and show it to the teacher. They would panic if they weren’t finished and needed more time. Someone needed to be with them at all times.

The boys both cried every morning – yes, every morning – because they didn’t want to be on computers. Things were so bad that one of my sons developed severe separation anxiety. He stopped going over to friends’ houses to play and cried if I had to leave the house. When in-person school finally restarted, he cried every single morning at drop-off. I kept thinking it would stop after a week or so, but it continued into first grade in the fall of 2021. We only just overcame the crying, and he has started getting his independence back.

By the time the kindergarten school year was over, it was clear the boys had missed a lot. We signed them up for summer school to try and catch them up and keep them in a routine, but the damage was done. Now the boys are in first grade, but the lessons they didn’t have made it harder. Plus, the school’s self-imposed mask mandate is hurting their ability to hear and learn. They’re still learning how to communicate and pick up on body language, which the masks stifle.

Families deserve school choice

As I think about my boys getting older, I worry whether we will ever have a true choice in their schooling. I know we’re not the only ones in this situation. And I know we’re not the only ones who want a better, fairer system for our kids. Polls show record support for policies that empower families to choose the best schools for their sons and daughters – a recent poll from Real Clear Opinion Research conducted on behalf of a school choice organization found that 71% of voters support school choice. But those choices are cut off for us.

My husband and I can’t afford a private school, and our home state of Michigan won’t help us out by letting us take the tax dollars we pay to educate our boys to the school of our choice. Our governor has vetoed legislation that would create private school scholarships for kids like ours. And our state Constitution unfairly blocks other options like vouchers and education savings accounts, which would let us use our own taxpayer dollars to cover tuition at schools that work better for our kids.

Jessie Bagos in Lansing, Mich., in October 2021.
Jessie Bagos in Lansing, Mich., in October 2021.

We’re suing Michigan so that we and all families can have options moving forward. A federal court could hear our case within the month. Our boys and all children in the state are counting on the right decision. After the horrible challenges of the past two years, and with more difficulties on the horizon, my boys need school choice. And we need it now.

Jessie Bagos lives in Royal Oak, Michigan. She is suing Michigan to allow school choice with the help of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, a public interest law firm.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Parents turn to school choice after remote-learning disasters