ST. GEORGE — Just weeks away from when Southern Utah school districts are set to reopen, some parents remain uncertain whether it’s time to send their kids back. This is leading many parents to consider home-schooling.
Erik Hanson, president of the Utah Home Education Association, told St. George News that they have “certainly” seen an increase in home-schoolers.
While he didn’t have specific numbers, Hanson said they are thinking the increase this year could be “anywhere between a 20% and 50% jump in the number of home-schoolers.”
Traditionally, the major reasons why parents choose to home-school their kids range from special needs’ considerations to dissatisfaction with district ideologies and curriculum.
“Now add to that list in the age of COVID, mandatory masks, isolation, separation,” he said, adding that a common thread among the reasons to home-school is the parent’s desire to have more control over their child’s education.
The irony of the situation now is that parents often worry about socialization when it comes to home school, he said. But in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools are now having to implement measures to keep children physically separate from one another.
“When they do start back up, they’re talking about far fewer kids, having them isolated and separated in class,” he said. “I know a lot of parents are upset with that, especially considering that every piece of science data says that kids are by far very, very unlikely to have any issues with the virus. On top of that, there’s no confirmation that kids can pass it on.”
A Centers for Disease Control study released last week that studied 53,073 children said kids aged 10 and below were less likely to transmit the coronavirus, but there was still a risk of them passing it. In addition, children aged 10 to 19 were able to transmit the virus as well as any adult.
Hanson said parents may choose to home-school their kids at any time, and the process is fairly simple.
Under Utah law, for all children 6 years old and older, parents need only to submit an affidavit to their local district that confirms they are taking full responsibility of their child’s education. As soon as the affidavit is sent, the child is exempt.
“As long as you don’t move out of that school district for the rest of your child’s life, schooling years, you never have to talk to them again,” Hanson said.
Students who are home-schooled could still take some classes at school and would need to check with the local district to learn how to do this, he said. For parents who are looking into home schooling, Hanson suggests finding local Facebook groups, online resources and looking into online curriculum.
“You don’t have to invent the wheel. You don’t have to be an expert at education. All you have to do is find other experts at education and follow their lead,” he said.
As far as how many Southern Utah parents have decided recently to home-school, the data is still inconclusive.
Cody Plumhof, a communications coordinator for the Washington County School District, told St. George News that they don’t know the numbers yet for how many parents have sent in affidavits this year, as they are still processing applications.
He said they wouldn’t be able to confirm a number for a couple of weeks.
Monica Torres, the administrative secretary for the Iron County School District, told St. George News that so far they have had 18 affidavits sent in. On average, she said, they receive between 15 and 85 requests per month excluding June and July.
Madeline Kazantzis, organizer of the Moms Against Masks coalition, told St. George News that after home-schooling her child for several years, she was excited for him to go to public school. But due to certain requirements, such as the mask mandate, she has decided to continue to home-school.
As someone who has experience with home schooling, she said she has been hearing from many new parents who are interested in home schooling.
Beyond just a general unease with sending their child to school in a mask, she said many parents are also concerned with aspects of the remote or online schooling options as proposed on the district drafts.
“I know a lot of parents feel unsafe about their kids having access to a Google Chromebook with a webcam,” she said. “Not everything is safe, as we know.”
She said some parents are also concerned with the expected curriculum.
“The school district is going to have certain presentations on how to handle the coronavirus and why masks are important, and I don’t think every parent agrees with those views and those stances,” she said.
Kazantzis will be sharing curriculum at a meeting held from 7 to 8 p.m. on Thursday at the Staheli Family Farm. The meeting is open to anyone who is interested.
Kazantzis also said she had a deep compassion for parents who aren’t able to home-school.
Of course, home schooling is not for everyone. It takes time, dedication and planning.
For parents who want a more structured home schooling system, Utah Online School is a branch of the Washington County School District, which means that students will have support from the district as they complete their schooling.
Like with home schooling, Utah Online School enrollments have also increased, Laura Belnap, director for Utah Online School, told St. George News. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said they are also seeing a different group of parents who are enrolling their kids in online school.
“We still get students who are coming for a variety of reasons, but we do have this one interesting group where the parents are concerned about what may happen in their traditional school, what the online (remote learning) was like in the spring versus the fall,” she said, adding that despite the challenges teachers faced, they did an incredible job.
The reality is being an online teacher takes months of training.
“It’s different tools and a different approach,” she said, as well as knowing how to adapt to student’s needs.
In the past, parents were looking for an alternative education to what they were receiving, but this year they are getting parents who are concerned about traditional education and what might be coming in the future, she said. Not because of the schools, but because the pandemic is driving what is happening.
For Michael Klunker, a parent of two school-aged children who works in dispatch at Dixie Regional Medical Center, this is his main concern and is what led him to sign up both of his kids for Utah Online School.
It isn’t the mask mandate that led him to want to keep his kids home but rather too many unanswered questions. He doesn’t think schools should reopen at all.
“What happens at lunchtime when all the kids take off their masks and someone sneezes?” he said.
In addition to his kids already having to practice for an active shooter, he said he now has to worry about sending his kids “to school hoping they don’t die of some disease that can be prevented.”
Without knowing the actual consequences of reopening schools, Klunker said it’s just not worth the risk.
“We’re going to have kids dying because of it. We’re going to have teachers dying because of it. And I refuse to be a part of it,” he said. “I’m not a science experiment and neither are my children.”
St. George News weekend editor/reporter Chris Reed contributed to this story.
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