Pandemic multiplies homeschooling
School health protocols push thousands of families to keep their children home
Claire Taylor of Midlothian, Texas, said she knew she was on the right track when a friend told her, “You’re already a homeschool mom.” The friend pointed out that Taylor was doing many of the things involved in teaching her children at home. She already thought home education might be a good fit for her sons, 8-year-old Rhett and 6-year-old Reed, but the pandemic gave her the final push to switch.
The coronavirus outbreak—and the uncertainty it has caused in many school districts—prompted thousands of families like the Taylors to homeschool their children for the first time. States use different methods to count homeschoolers, but experts generally estimate parents educated about 2.5 million school-aged students at home before the pandemic. A recent Gallup poll found 10 percent of parents said they planned to homeschool this year—double the percentage from last year.
“The shift towards homeschooling is going to be somewhere between large and enormous,” the Texas Home School Coalition’s Jeremy Newman said.
Over the summer, Taylor and her husband weighed the prospect of sending the boys to school with masks and social distancing, as well as the uncertainty of not knowing whether school would even meet in a given week. Taylor said she was happy with the public school, but if her children had to stay home, “I want to control what my kids are learning and what curriculum they’re following.”
The Texas Education Association’s release of back-to-school guidelines in July proved the tipping point for many other families. They included the requirement that schools provide daily, in-person instruction to any student who wanted it. All students 10 and older had to wear masks unless they lived in a county with 20 or fewer COVID-19 cases. Some parents expressed concern about the requirements being too onerous, while others worried about exposing students to COVID-19 and transmitting it to vulnerable family members. Newman said calls and emails to the Texas Home School Coalition doubled in the 24 hours following the release of the rules. The number of downloads of public school withdrawal forms from the organization’s website skyrocketed by 1,500 percent in July.
Other states saw surges in homeschooling requests this summer. In North Carolina, the website that handles new homeschool paperwork crashed just days after opening for fall submissions due to unexpectedly high volume. Vermont’s Agency of Education website warns of a five- to six-week processing time for new homeschooling applications, which were up 75 percent from last year by mid-July.
Meanwhile, Taylor said she meets one day a week with a local homeschool co-op and walks midmorning while her sons ride their bikes. Her husband often joins them, since he now works from home. Taylor said homeschooling intimidated her at first, but it helped that others were in the same boat: “We had other people in our community who said ‘Let’s do it. We’ll be newbies together!’”
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