Homeschooling gains popularity in US amid safety concerns after Parkland and Santa Fe school shootings
A growing number of parents are considering educating their children via homeschool after school safety concerns arising from mass school shootings across the country
The Parkland school shootings left an indelible mark on the minds of parents who are fearing for the safety of their children and numb from the incessant news of massacres across the country.
The immediate alternative that comes to mind for these concerned parents, is homeschooling their children. The Texas Home School Coalition has been inundated by calls for months from petrified parents who would rather educate their children at home than sending them to a war zone where their lives are in jeopardy, reported Washington Times.
After this year's deadly school massacres, first in Parkland and then in Santa Fe, Texas, the Lubbock-based organization has been swamped with inquiries from parents seeking safer options for their kids.
“When the Parkland shooting happened, our phone calls and emails exploded,” said coalition president Tim Lambert. “In the last couple of months, our numbers have doubled. We’re dealing with probably between 1,200 and 1,400 calls and emails per month, and prior to that it was 600 to 700.”
As parents lose the faith in the ability of public school to protect students from fatal bullets, there is a surge of interest in homeschooling despite demands to beef up school security and restrict the entry of firearms in the premises.
Christopher Chin, president of Homeschool Louisiana, said that more than the threat of school shootings, parents are increasingly concerned about “the violence, the bullying, the unsafe environments" that surround their children's classrooms.
“One of the things we’ve seen definitely an uptick in the last five years is the aspect of violence. It’s the bullying. That is off the charts,” Chin said.
According to Chin, while mass shootings will not necessarily change the minds of parents who are satisfied with their children's public-school experiences, the ones who are contemplating homeschooling their kids are definitely more sure than ever.
“I think what happens with these school shootings is they’re the straws that broke the camel’s back,” Chin said. “I don’t think it’s the major decision-maker, but it’s in the back of parents’ minds.”
School safety has become an issue for parents who are leaning towards teaching their children at home, said Brian D Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute in Salem, Oregon, who has conducted homeschool research for 33 years.
According to Ray, the top three reasons cited by parents who would prefer homeschooling are dissatisfaction with the academic curriculum, worries about the school environment, and a desire to provide religious instruction or different values than those offered in public institutions.
“Most parents homeschool for more than one reason,” Ray said. “But when we ask families why do they homeschool, near the top nowadays is concern about the environment of schools, and that includes safety, pressure to get into drugs, pressure to get into sexual activity. It includes all of that.”
Following the harrowing "Valentine's Day massacre" in Parkland, Florida, social media was rife with parents vowing to pull their kids out of school. Some even contacted their local homeschool advocates immediately after the news broke.
“I talk with these people on a regular basis, and clearly after a shooting, more of them are saying, ‘Hey, we’re getting more phone calls, we’ve got more people at the beginner session asking about safety,’” Ray said.
That being said, not everyone is in the same boat when it comes to their child's education. A lead virtual school teacher for the Madison County Schools System in Huntsville, Alabama, Takisha Coats Durm, opined that a classroom environment is essential for a child's overall development.
“Even though it seems we may be protecting them, we may be sheltering them instead of teaching them to work and find a solution for the issues and not necessarily running away from them, because these things are going to happen,” Durm told WAAY-TV in Huntsville.
However, it is hard to verify the number of homeschoolers in a particular state as the government does not keep such records. But homeschool advocates are confident that their numbers are rising faster than ever.
Using data from the National Household Education Surveys program, a 2017 report by the US Department of Education estimated that there were 1.69 million homeschool students from ages 5-17 in spring 2016. The said program mailed questionnaires to about 200,000 selected households in order to gather their data.
However, using figures provided by the 15 states that track homeschoolers, Ray estimated that there were over 2.3 million homeschool students in spring 2016.
If his figures were to be taken into account, it would mean a 25 percent increase in homeschoolers between 2012-16, while the US school-age population grew only by about 2 percent.
Chin said that there were 30,134 homeschool students registered in January in the state of Louisiana, which keeps an official record of homeschoolers. These figures indicate a significant increase from the conversion rates recorded in 2011.
The president of Homeschool Louisiana, who homeschools his five children with his wife in New Orleans, added, “Homeschooling has exploded in our state. If homeschoolers were their own school district in our state, we would be the sixth largest in the state.”
According to Lambert's estimation, Texas has about 150,000 families and more than 300,000 students being taught at home. He too homeschooled his four children who are now adults.
Last year, a poll conducted by his organization found safety to be among the top four reasons as to why parents are educating their kids at home than at a public institution.
“I’m required by law to place my kids in a public school or private or homeschool, but the state is not accountable in terms of the safety of these children,” said Lambert. “So we get lots of calls from people saying, ‘Hey my kid’s being bullied, my kid’s being attacked, and the school either can’t or won’t do anything about it, so we’re going to take care of our child. We’re withdrawing him.’”
Lambert also resonated with Chin while saying that the recent school shootings could have served as the breaking point for parents who were already on the verge of choosing a different path for educating their kids.
“When a shooting happens, I call it the straw that basically breaks their idea of the public schools,” Lambert said. “They’ve already been thinking about it, and now somebody gets stabbed, or another teacher beats up another kid, or another kid beats up another teacher, and they say, ‘You know what? We don’t want to be there.’”