For Now, We’re All “Home” Schooled

A child being taught at home

A parent teaching her child at home
Thomas Edison, Booker T. Washington, and the Wright brothers are among thousands of famous innovators who would feel right at home in North Carolina these days. So would modern-day celebrities like Taylor Swift, Venus and Serena Williams, and Olympic gymnast Simon Biles. That’s because all of them were schooled at home, or as Governor Cooper might call it, “Plan C”.

Thanks to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, Cooper recently gave local school districts a choice of three plans for offering instruction this fall. Plan A allows all students to attend class in person at the same time. Plan B would limit capacity of classrooms, and alternate days or weeks of attendance. Plan C allows for remote learning exclusively. As of last week, 39 of the 115 school districts have opted for Plan C (including Winston-Salem Forsyth, Guilford, Alamance/Burlington, Surry County, and Thomasville), which means at least 570,000 K-12 students will be attending school online next month. In most of the Plan C schools, remote learning will last for the first nine weeks of the semester, at which time, students could be allowed back into the classrooms.

The question is, will parents allow their children to return to classroom instruction once Plan C becomes Plan A? Already one third of parents in Charlotte, for example, have said they will continue online learning after nine weeks, regardless. And what about long term? Will these uncertain times encourage more parents to establish their own home school? There is reason to believe they will. According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, on July 1, there were so many parents seeking to register a home school, that they actually crashed the state portal, causing the NC Non-Public Education System website to post this message: “The system is not currently available due to an overwhelming submission of Notices of Intent.”

There is, of course, a difference between learning at home and home schooling, but lately the two teaching strategies have become inexorably linked and blurred because of COVID-19. Historically, most parents home schooled their children for religious reasons, but in 1985, the North Carolina Supreme Court validated home schooling in general, and since then, a growing number of parents have opted to teach their kids at home for secular reasons. Last year, for example, 44% of registered home schools were listed as “non-religious”. Meanwhile, home schooling overall has increased in popularity. According to the North Carolina Department of Administration, as of 2019, there were 94,863 registered home schools, teaching a total of 149,173 students. That means, even prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, home schools constituted the second largest school district in the state. Now, in light of our pandemic approach to public education, there is no reason to believe this upward trend in home school start-ups will abate.

Surprisingly, it is relatively simple to register as a home school. According to the NCDOA website, a parent need only have a high school diploma (or GED), give their school a name, and identify the ages and genders of each student being home-schooled. Attendance and immunization records must be kept, the same as with any school, and the parent (instructor) must make sure that the students take annual standardized math and reading tests.

Granted, most parents are looking forward to the day when they can safely send their children back into physical classrooms, but others may see the COVID crisis as an impetus for extending home-based instruction indefinitely. Who knows, Cooper’s Plan C and the new wave of home schooling may produce the next Booker T. Washington, and maybe he will invent a better way of teaching during a pandemic.


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