By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on July 14, 2020
After the COVID-19 pandemic closed classrooms this year, Manteo resident Kimberly Head knew she would homeschool her sixth-grade daughter, who is a cancer survivor with current health problems, in the next school year. Now with that school year a month away, Head has also decided to homeschool her three other children who have been students in the Dare County Schools.
Among other reasons for that decision, Head told the Voice that, “I want to eliminate the drama for my children. I don’t want them to be thinking the whole school year, ‘When are we going to go back to school, when do we not have to wear masks.’ I don’t want that.”
For many parents across the state, navigating the COVID-19 reality this summer has included much anticipation and consideration about what school will look like for their children this fall. And faced with what will clearly be an altered school environment, some parents appear to be opting to teach their children at home for the first time — even as Governor Roy Cooper prepares to announce his plans for re-opening schools on July 13.
The Voice interviewed a handful of Dare County parents who have decided to homeschool, as well as local and state homeschooling groups who say there has been a significant uptick in interest among families who have traditionally enrolled their students in public school.
“PATH [OBX] has received a number of inquiries about homeschooling,” said one of the local homeschooling group’s spokespeople, Erica Rohrbacher. “And I personally started to see people asking on the local Facebook pages.” She added that the influx of inquiries prompted the group to schedule a series of Zoom meetings this summer to provide information to parents who are considering homeschooling.
Citing the health and safety of their children and family members who are at high risk, contemplating the potential negative impacts of remote learning, and concerned about on-site learning that includes social distancing, daily temperature checks and face coverings, these parents have spent the last few weeks researching curriculums and networking with other local homeschooling parents to prepare for educating at home.
Kimberly Head has decided to homeschool her two high schoolers and two middle schoolers beginning August 17, the same day public schools officially open. Aside from the health-related factors surrounding her daughter Madeline, after discussions with her family, she decided it was also the ideal option for all of her children.
“There are multiple reasons, but the bottom line is we have chosen to homeschool because homeschool programs, whether you select the curriculum or go with an online private school, they’ve established themselves, they know what works,” asserted Head, who noted that her children struggled with the Dare public schools’ remote learning program last spring.
Head isn’t alone in her desire to homeschool. According to the N.C. Department of Non-Public Instruction, there were 371 homeschools registered in Dare County during the 2019-2020 school year, 59 more than there were two years prior. PATH, the largest local non-profit homeschooling group, estimates that there are roughly 30 families with between 70 and 80 children who are active in the group now.
According to a July 1 report in North State Journal, the N.C. Department of Administration’s Notice of Intent to Establish a Home School website crashed that day because of an overwhelming number of submissions. July 1 was the first day North Carolinians were able to register their home schools, however families can file the Notice of Intent and withdraw from public school at any time. The Department of Administration did not respond to Voice attempts to reach them for comment.
Still, Dare County Digital Communications Director Keith Parker told the Voice in an email that the parents he has talked with who want to keep their children home this fall are more are interested in the Virtual Learning option offered by Dare County Schools than the prospect of homeschooling. That option allows students, regardless of Cooper’s decision on a school plan, to take classes in Dare County Schools remotely for the fall semester without having to attend school on site.
But some parents are opting for homeschooling over keeping kids in the public school system. For Dare County mother Haley Readman, the idea was something she had always considered for her daughter Ruby, who would be going into third grade at Kitty Hawk Elementary School, and her four-year-old son, Jax.
When schools in North Carolina converted to remote learning in mid-March, Readman started a local Facebook page called OBX Homeschooling Mamas, referring to the reality many parents suddenly found themselves dealing with. The page had 300 followers and at the time, Readman didn’t know what was in store for her family this fall.
The continuing severity of the pandemic gave her that push since Jax has a heart defect and has had three open heart surgeries. While she knew she’d be keeping Jax home to protect his health, she said she realized that sending Ruby back to school would be like “sending her into a petri dish essentially…the health of my family is my highest priority.”
The decision to not send Ruby to school means that her daughter won’t be able to participate in the district’s Spanish Immersion program. But in the end, Readman opted for homeschooling.
“With the cases rising, especially in Dare County, we just kept going back to the health of our family,” she said. “It’s far more important than a Spanish program.”
Readman had considered enrolling Ruby in the district’s Virtual Learning program, but she decided to choose her own curriculum instead. That way, she noted, “We have the freedom to do what we want and how we want. We just have to narrow down a curriculum.”
Another Manteo parent, Becky Reed said she’s in a “house divided,” when it comes to schooling for her twin sixth-grade sons this fall. And health concerns, she said, aren’t the driving factor.
“As we went through remote learning [in the spring], I saw that for one [son], it worked fine. It certainly wasn’t perfect, but he did okay with it,” she said. But her other son, she added, needed the consistency and predictable routine that school offered.
“He needed more direct instruction,” she asserted. “And for [him], we are homeschooling regardless of what comes down the pike” as far as a school plan announced by the governor. For her other son, she’s not so sure. “He would actually like to go to school no matter what option they come up with,” she explained
These local stories are familiar and reflect the questions many families are facing, said North Carolinians for Home Education Executive Director Matthew McDill. “Many people don’t like the uncertainty of what school is going to be like and whether it will be safe,” he said, adding that for many who had been contemplating homeschooling at one point or another, the COVID-19 pandemic has given them that extra nudge.
Homeschooling is “kind of a scary thing to do and so they just didn’t do it. Well, this just pushed them over the edge, and they realized, ‘Oh, I can do this,’” McDill said.
That was certainly the case for Reed. The possibility of homeschooling was always something she and her husband had talked about. “We were never at a point where we felt like it was the time to do it,” she noted. “But this is certainly the time.”
(PATH OBX has three information Zoom meetings scheduled for parents interested in homeschooling. The July 20 meeting is for parents of middle school students, July 27 for parents of high school students and August 2 is dedicated for general homeschooling questions. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.)