Neier and parents across the nation are skipping kindergarten in droves during the most tumultuous school year in generations. Frustrated by the thought of sticking their 5-year-olds in front of screens during the pivotal first year of school, they are sending their children to extended preschool, forming learning pods or foregoing formal instruction altogether.

“I thought my tears would be because I was sending my baby to school, not because I was worrying if the decision to keep him out of school this year was the wrong one,” said Neier, who lives in Peoria, Ariz.

Given the choice, parents have sought alternatives, especially essential workers who need child care to stay employed. Teachers are doing their best to keep their students’ attention — but also would prefer to return to their classrooms whenever conditions are safe. School administrators are imploring families to enroll their kindergartners, fearing a loss of attendance-based dollars.