SHOOT­INGS PUSH MORE TO­WARD HOME SCHOOL

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY VA­LERIE RICHARDSON

Af­ter a gun­man opened fire on stu­dents in Park­land, Florida, the phones started ring­ing at the Texas Home School Coali­tion, and they haven’t stopped.

The Lub­bock-based or­ga­ni­za­tion has been swamped with in­quiries for months from par­ents seek­ing safer op­tions for their chil­dren in the af­ter­math of this year’s deadly school mas­sacres, first in Park­land and then in Santa Fe, Texas.

“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.”

De­mands to re­strict firearms and beef up school se­cu­rity have dom­i­nated the de­bate af­ter the shoot­ings, but fly­ing un­der the radar is the surge of in­ter­est in home school­ing as par­ents lose faith in the abil­ity of pub­lic schools to pro­tect stu­dents from harm.

And it’s not just the threat of school shoot­ings. Christo­pher Chin, pres­i­dent of Homeschool Louisiana, said par­ents are also in­creas­ingly con­cerned about “the vi­o­lence, the bul­ly­ing, the un­safe en­vi­ron­ments.”

“One of the things we’ve seen def­i­nitely an uptick in in the last five years is the as­pect of vi­o­lence. It’s the bul­ly­ing. That is off the charts,” Mr. Chin said.

In his ex­pe­ri­ence, a mass shoot­ing won’t change the minds of par­ents sat­is­fied with their chil­dren’s pub­lic school ex­pe­ri­ences, but it can tip the bal­ance for those lean­ing to­ward home ed­u­ca­tion.

“I think what hap­pens with these school shoot­ings is they’re the straws that broke the camel’s back,” Mr. Chin said. “I don’t think it’s the ma­jor de­ci­sion-maker, but it’s in the back of par­ents’ minds.”

Brian D. Ray, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Home Ed­u­ca­tion Re­search In­sti­tute in Salem, Ore­gon, who has con­ducted homeschool re­search for 33 years, said school safety has in­creas­ingly be­come an is­sue for par­ents look­ing at teach­ing their chil­dren at home.

He said the top three rea­sons that par­ents choose home school­ing are a de­sire to pro­vide re­li­gious in­struc­tion or dif­fer­ent val­ues from those of­fered in pub­lic schools, dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the aca­demic cur­ricu­lum and wor­ries about the school en­vi­ron­ment.

“Most par­ents home-school for more than one rea­son,” Mr. 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.”

Af­ter the Feb. 14 shoot­ing in Park­land, vows by par­ents to pull their chil­dren out of school erupted on so­cial me­dia, and some of them ap­par­ently fol­lowed through by mak­ing con­tact with their lo­cal homeschool ad­vo­cates.

“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,’” Mr. Ray said.

Not ev­ery­one agrees with the homeschool de­ci­sion. Tak­isha Coats Durm, lead vir­tual school teacher for the Madi­son County district in Huntsville, Alabama, said that flee­ing the class­room teaches the wrong les­son.

“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,” Ms. Durm told WAAY-TV in Huntsville.

She made the com­ments shortly af­ter the May 18 shoot­ing at Santa Fe High School, which left 10 dead just three months af­ter 17 were killed in the mas­sacre at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School in Park­land.

Track­ing the num­bers

While home-school ad­vo­cates are con­fi­dent that their ranks are grow­ing, pin­ning down the num­ber of U.S. at-home stu­dents is a chal­lenge, given most states don’t keep count.

A 2017 U.S. Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion re­port es­ti­mated 1.69 mil­lion home-school stu­dents ages 5-17 in spring 2016, us­ing data from the Na­tional House­hold Ed­u­ca­tion Sur­veys pro­gram, which mailed ques­tion­naires to about 200,000 se­lected house­holds.

Those find­ings would in­di­cate that home-school­ing has been flat since 2012, but Mr. Ray es­ti­mated 2.3 mil­lion homeschool stu­dents in spring 2016, us­ing fig­ures pro­vided by the 15 states that track home-school­ers, as well as Mari­copa County, Ari­zona.

His fig­ure rep­re­sented a 25 per­cent in­crease from 2012 to 2016. Dur­ing the same pe­riod, the U.S. school-age pop­u­la­tion grew by about 2 per­cent.

“My bot­tom-line sum­mary is that it’s been grow­ing at an es­ti­mated 2 to 8 per­cent per year, and that’s com­pounded,” Mr. Ray said.

In Louisiana, which does ask for home­school­ing re­ports, Mr. Chin said 30,134 home-school stu­dents reg­is­tered in Jan­uary, up from an es­ti­mated 18,500 to 20,000 in 2011.

“Home-school­ing has ex­ploded in our state,” said Mr. Chin, who home-schools his five chil­dren with his wife in New Or­leans. “If home-school­ers were their own school district in our state, we would be the sixth-largest in the state.”

Texas doesn’t re­quire regis­tra­tion, but Mr. Lam­bert, who home-schooled his four now-adult chil­dren, es­ti­mated that the state has 150,000 fam­i­lies and more than 300,000 stu­dents taught at home.

“In fact, we have more stu­dents be­ing home-schooled in Texas than we have in tra­di­tional pri­vate schools in Texas, and that’s quoted by a num­ber of our state of­fi­cials,” he said.

His or­ga­ni­za­tion spon­sored a poll last year that found safety ranked fourth among rea­sons par­ents de­cide to ed­u­cate their chil­dren at home.

“I’m re­quired by law to place my kids in a pub­lic school or pri­vate or home school, but the state is not ac­count­able in terms of the safety of these chil­dren,” said Mr. 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.’”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Af­ter the shoot­ing in Park­land, Florida, in Fe­bru­ary, many par­ents vowed to pull their chil­dren from school in fa­vor of the safety of home-school­ing.

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