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FIRST-PERSON: Considering homeschooling in a COVID-19 world

TIGERVILLE, S.C. (BP) — I recently learned that over 30 percent of students at our local elementary school will not be returning this fall for in-person instruction. While many of these students will be staying home to engage in public education virtually, 10 percent of the total school population is actually pulling their kids out and opting to home school.

Just think about that — one out of 10 local students are already committed to pursuing alternative education. This number will likely increase between now and the first day of school as families say goodbye to their neighborhood schoolhouse and say hello to math at the kitchen table. Your children may emerge from the early-morning car line to greet their classmate on the first day back, only to discover that he or she will not be attending this year. Does anyone else find this educational shift shocking?

Sitting on my front porch on a South Carolina summer afternoon, I can clearly see rain clouds gathering over the treetops in the distance, but no rain has yet fallen where I sit. While we all know that COVID-19 has changed things, I do not think we have even begun to recognize the ramifications this educational exodus will bring. Rain is coming.

My wife and I have three children. We are a homeschool family. We have always been open to all three educational options (public, private and homeschool), but for now, homeschooling fits our family flow best. While homeschooling has always been on the table for us, it is not plausible for many parents, due to the complexities of modern life.

Many homes have single parents or two parents who must work full-time jobs to cover household expenses. For most families, public education is the only option ever seriously considered. The financial hit from a different educational direction would likely be too great to bear. Or would it?

While I suspect that some private schools will see a bump in enrollment this year, I doubt it will be anything as significant as the surge homeschooling coops have received in recent days. Once parents begin to legitimately consider alternatives to public education, their view of homeschool families changes. It’s not so much that public school parents see homeschool families differently; it’s that they begin to see them at all.

Before COVID-19, I do not remember anyone straightforwardly talking to me about homeschooling. It came up as an aside during a staff Christmas party last year, but I don’t remember legitimately discussing the dynamics of being a homeschool family with anyone before now. I came home from work a few weeks ago and asked my wife: “Have people been talking to you about homeschooling stuff?” Her eyes grew wide and she said, “Yes, it’s crazy! Some are reaching out to me on social media. Others are texting me. Parents want to do what is best for their kids, but they legitimately don’t know which direction to go.”

Frankly, I didn’t even know that everyone already knew that we were a homeschool family. It must be our weathered 2005 minivan that we drive all over town that gave it away. Regardless, I’m sincerely grateful that our friends saw us as a trusted resource to help them in their time of decision.

So maybe you are still on the fence about school for the fall. Maybe you have already opted out and are wondering which language arts curriculum will keep your child on track with your state standards. Maybe you are trying to navigate the murky waters of homeschool accountability associations or you’re trying to figure out how you will teach multiple different grades with a toddler at your heels. In my experience, homeschool families are happy to help parents think through their educational options.

The decision to pull a child out of a public school because of an unexpected international virus cannot be done without some measure of anxiety and vacillation. The bottom line is this: if you have questions, comments, or concerns about homeschooling, reach out to a homeschool parent today.