For more than 10 percent of the 57 million school-age children nationwide, fall 2020 may bring another big shift in their education: homeschooling.
According to a Real Clear Opinion Poll on May 14, 15 percent of the 2,122 families surveyed are planning to homeschool their children in the fall. As of fall 2019, just 3 to 4 percent of all students in the United States were homeschooled, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association.
“If this poll holds true that would mean 8.5 million American children would be homeschooled in the fall. It’s hard to believe,” said Mike Donnelly, senior counsel and director of global outreach for the Home School Legal Defense Association. “But, there are a lot of things that schools are talking about in the fall that families are not comfortable with.”
Although the percentage of homeschoolers in Connecticut as of 2017 remains well below the national average, with less than 1 percent of students participating in homeschooling, in the last two months interest has grown substantially according to Pam Lucashu of The Education Association of Christian Homeschoolers.
In the last week alone, Lucashu said, individuals in the Association’s considering homeschooling Facebook group increased by 26 percent. In New London County, several families have expressed interest in transitioning to homeschooling, according to the Thames Valley 4-H Homeschool Co-op.
With public and private schools across the state closed since mid-March due to effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 and with uncertainty about what school will look like in the fall, a transition to homeschooling is an appealing option for families.
“There are several reasons we are considering switching to homeschooling next year,” said Michelle Kurber, a resident and mother in the Branford School District. “Before COVID happened our family started to become concerned with the district’s reliance on technology and lack of play at the younger grade levels. Studies have been showing for years negative effects of prolonged screen time with young children ranging from shorter attention spans all the way to behavioral problems.”
When schools closed this spring, online learning became the default method of education for public and private school students across the state.
“Instead of picking up a laptop and an iPad for my kindergartner and second grader where we had to learn a new and frustrating online platform, it would have been more helpful to pick up a packet of worksheets and library books for my kids to read,” Kurber said. “I absolutely believe technology has a place in education but I do not believe it should be relied on in the younger grade levels. If we homeschool next year our family looks forward to choosing a curriculum that better fits our children’s individual learning style and interests. We will also have the ability to have shorter school days and increase field trips around the community to enhance our learning.”
On May 19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance to school districts about precautions that should be taken if they are to reopen in the fall. The recommendations include students and teachers wearing masks, not sharing supplies, keeping desks six feet apart, social distancing on school buses, requiring one-directional hallways, restricting visitors from the school, staggering arrival and departure times and routine cleaning of surfaces and supplies throughout the day.
“Folks are really frustrated with how schooling is going right now and are considering homeschooling as an alternative,” Donnelly said. “With schools saying they will do a lot of things differently in the fall it may push those families who were considering homeschooling to pull the trigger.”
If the COVID-19 pandemic does push more families to choose homeschooling, that doesn’t mean they can’t ever go back, said Sandra Kim, a spokesperson for the Home School Legal Defense Association.
“You don’t have to think of homeschool as kindergarten through 12th grade, you can always go back,” Kim said. “For the next year it might make the most sense, after that we shall see.”
Although it may seem like life for homeschool families has not changed much due to COVID-19, the Thames Valley 4-H Homeschool Co-op said it has actually changed drastically. The group along with many other homeschool co-ops, which used to meet weekly for some subjects and activities, has not been able to meet since the pandemic began due to social distancing restrictions.
“We still are not sure if the fall will be different for us or not too,” said Brittany Casey, a homeschooling mom and member of the Thames Valley co-op. “We need to know if we will be able to meet, especially if we will be supporting this possible influx.”
Homeschooled children across the country are rarely just learning from home. They take field trips, combine with other children in co-ops, participate in extracurricular activities provided for public school children and are often very involved in their communities, Donnelly said.