Concern About the Delta Variant Spikes Homeschooling Among Texas Families

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

The telephone has been ringing off the hook at the office of the Texas Home School Coalition (THSC). That’s because the new school year is quickly approaching.

Call and email volume doubled in the last full week of July, rising from 536 the week before to 1016, according to a press release. The following week, the call and email volume spiked to 1232.

In just one school year, the number of homeschooling families in Texas has nearly tripled from 4.5 to 12.3%, which is about 750,000 people, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, and the rise in African American families who are opting to homeschool is startling.

Jeremy Newman, public policy director for THSC told Dallas Express that renewed concern about the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant is fueling the trend.

Dallas Express: Why do you think the number of parents homeschooling their children in Texas is likely to rise for the 2021-2022 school year?

Newman: It’s a combination of reasons. I think that obviously the biggest new thing happening is that COVID is suddenly in the news again and everyone is concerned about the Delta variant. The CDC is talking about new guidelines for people having to wear masks and people are concerned about how their school is going to react. We had a lot of people who planned to homeschool last fall and a year later now, whether they will continue, is the big question. A lot of people are deciding yes. It’s partly the COVID issue and the data indicates that for the vast majority of people, homeschooling works well for them and they just want to keep doing it.

Dallas Express: U.S. Census Bureau data for 2020 reveals that the largest surge in homeschooling was driven by minority families. Nationwide, the rate of black families homeschooling rose from 3.3 to 16.1%. Why are African American parents increasingly homeschooling their children?

Newman: That trend predates COVID. It was already happening. If you go back and look at the 80s when homeschool was brand new in modern terms, it was only the very hyper-religiously motivated people who were doing it because it was so hard to do. You had to have a really deep, personal motivation but as it has expanded and become more available to more people, the groups of people who homeschool have diversified dramatically. For the black community, statistically, one of the primary things they cite as a reason for homeschooling is to escape racism in the public school or because they feel like their public school is failing them. They have a lot of the same motivations as others do but racism is one of their unique reasons.

Dallas Express: What does the increase in homeschooling in Texas overall indicate?

Newman: That there are a lot of people who have been wondering about this for the last several months, and now it’s coming down to the wire. They’re having to make a decision. They either call us to get information to help them make a decision or they’re just taking the plunge right now.

Dallas Express: What questions do parents ask when they call?

Newman: For those who are brand new to homeschooling, the big question is what do I do first? How do I get started? We tell them there’s a process that you have to follow legally in Texas if your child is already in public school and you want to withdraw them. It’s super easy. We have a form on our website that automatically will generate a letter of withdrawal for someone if they want to leave the public school. Once you do that, a lot of people have this misconception that they are required to have the next five years planned out for how they’re going to homeschool before they can start. That’s not how it works because if you have that plan, you will definitely not follow it. The reason is because you’re going to adjust what you’re doing based on what you learn about what works best for your family and what works best for your student. You might put together a plan for the first six months, the first year or first couple of years, if you’re ambitious but the plan is a baseline. You can’t be rigid because you’re going to want to adjust it as you learn more information. Once people understand that, it gives them some freedom to realize that if they’re thoughtfully experimenting about how to do this, it’s okay. They’re not going to break their child.

Dallas Express: A bill passed statewide, which allows homeschooled students to take advantage of extracurricular activities at their local public school. Is that incentivizing parents to homeschool?

Newman: It’s gone into effect now because the state agency, University Interscholastic League (UIL), went ahead and changed their rules to make it effective for this school year. Each district gets to decide whether they’re going to allow it or not. For this first school year, we don’t anticipate there being a flood of districts allowing it because it’s totally brand new.

They can only participate in UIL at the district that they would be eligible to attend, which is where they live. There are a handful of school transfer rules that you may be able to use if your district doesn’t allow it but that’s still in question. The rulemaking on that is unfinished.

Dallas Express: Some 72.2% of families who began homeschooling during COVID-19 will continue to do so and will not return to public school this fall, according to Time4Learning data. What do you say to people who believe homeschooling undermines public schools and takes resources away from public school students?

Newman: The whole point of the money going into any school is for the children. In Texas, all of these parents who are homeschooling are still paying their tax dollars to support the public education system. If you believe that the whole point of the education system has to be what’s best for the child, then if it’s best for a child to leave and get their education at home, we should be happy that they found what’s best for them.

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