KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Parents considering homeschooling due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming school year are not alone.
Christine Lopez, who lives in Johnson County, Kansas, has three children with potentially three different paths to school. Last fall, Lopez homeschooled her daughter for one semester to manage a food allergy and then sent her back to first grade in public school.
“Until COVID happened, then she came right back home,” she said and this fall, her daughter will homeschool again. Her four-year-old son will return to a private preschool. For her high schooler, she says they haven’t decided yet how he will go to school this year.
“Each child is different and so even though they’re all three mine, they don’t all three need the same things,” she said. For Lopez, it was the unknown of a school year in the midst of a pandemic that played a bigger factor than health concerns.
“When I started hearing a lot of what school is going to look like this year, and just a lot of the uncertainties, I was concerned. My daughter is very, she needs a routine,” she said.
Jacklynn Walters with Midwest Parent Educators says the local nonprofit serves more than a thousand homeschool families and they have heard from more families interested in starting homeschooling.
“They are getting a drastic increase in telephone calls, emails, the website,” she said.
41 Action News asked the Kansas State Department of Education to show us the trend in new registrations and while they don’t track home schools separately, they did give us the data for new registrations for all non-accredited private schools, which includes home schools.
It shows 758 new registrations just in July 2020. That is more than twice the number of the next-highest monthly registrations since July 2018. The next-highest month was August 2019, which showed 330 new registrations. July 2019 showed 180 registrations, July 2018 — 149.
“While we don’t require applicants to tell us why they’re registering as a non-accredited private school, it’s reasonable to presume this increase is tied to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Denise Kahler with KSDE via email.
In Missouri, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education does not monitor or regulate home schools, but spokesperson Mallory McGowin said they are taking more calls from families wondering what the process is like.
Regarding homeschooling, the Missouri DESE website says "There is no registration required with the state. There is no program for the inspection, approval, or accreditation of home schools in Missouri."
Parents or guardians can notify the county or school district where they live that the child will be home-schooled to “minimize unnecessary investigations due to reports of truancy” according to state statute.
Both states have school attendance laws, required hours of instruction, and more.
Lopez said the increased interest doesn’t surprise her.
“My friends who were telling me, ‘Christine you’re crazy’ last year, they’re like ‘I could never home school my kids, it’s like how are you going to do this? Like are you sure you want to do this?’ and I just stuck with it. A lot of them are joining me this year," she said.
Walters, who also homeschools her children, says Midwest Parent Educators is hearing from families now considering homeschooling because of health concerns.
“So there’s the mask aspect, but then you have some that are fearful of getting, contracting, COVID and then bringing it home to parents or grandparents so it’s across the board,” Walters said.
Lopez warns that what so many experienced as virtual learning last school year is not the same as homeschooling.
“I think we got a very skewed view of what homeschooling actually looks like during quarantine because you’re not stuck in your house all day every day,” she said.
Lopez recommended connecting with a community or organization if parents are considering homeschooling. Lopez also added that a decision to homeschool doesn’t have to be permanent.
“There’s really no wrong answer," she said. “If the best thing for you is to go back to public school, do it. And if the best thing for you is to do virtual learning for now until you’re a little bit more comfortable or until you’re sure, do that. And if the best thing is to actually homeschool, do it!”