Interest in home-schooling way up, support groups say
Interest is high during pandemic, but applications to the province are still low
Based on the number of people reaching out to her, Rebecca Halliday is predicting "a dramatic spike in home-schooling this year."
The motivating factor is COVID-19, said the Moncton mother of two girls.
"One hundred per cent because of COVID," she said firmly. "If it wasn't for COVID, I would not be homeschooling my child."
She said it's not the fear of getting COVID-19, it's the "chaos" caused by efforts to minimize its spread.
Halliday said there's a lot of anxiety over how students' daily lives will be impacted by public health protocols for masks, physical distancing and classroom bubbles, along with changes to busing and class configurations.
Another huge concern is whether schools will close if there's a serious outbreak.
Halliday — a teacher who operated a day school in downtown Moncton until it permanently closed in June — said it just made sense to home-school her daughter.
"I've been teaching a variety of ages and abilities for my entire teaching career, so it's really just a natural fit for me, and I get to spend the year with my daughter, and we get to keep our world a little bit more predictable than it has been."
Two other girls will join Halliday's daughter for home-schooling — ironically in a now-closed school. She has rented half of the former Gunningsville School in Riverview.
"So they're actually going to be home-schooled in a real school," said Halliday.
"I did that for my business, but I also, in the back of my mind thought, 'I'm going to be doing this for years to come. What an epic, fun way to start it off with my own children or my own child.'"
Halliday said she's received a lot of inquiries from people about home-schooling — and specifically about joining her home-school school — but she has no plans to expand at the moment. Nor does she have any plans to reopen Riverbend Community School.
She said she can safely operate in almost all colour-coded levels of lockdown at her current size.
Interest high, applications low
Parents interested in home-schooling must first get permission from the province. Applications are available on the government's website.
Parents have to sign and take full responsibility for the education of their children.
School districts review the application before submitting them to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, explained department spokesperson Danielle Elliott.
Once received, the education minister approves or denies the request.
While several home-schooling support groups are reporting a huge surge in the number of parents looking for information, the actual number of applications is still quite low.
As of Friday, only 195 applications have been received by the department. Last year, by comparison, 938 applications were received for the 2019-20 school year, said Elliot.
But, she pointed out, applications may be submitted at any time throughout the school year, so there's still plenty of time to apply.
Elliot also said that while 938 applications were received for the last school year, some of those students may have returned to the public system throughout the year.
Sarah Litson, who leads a home-schooling support group in Edmundston, said she's received a lot of calls from parents interested in home-schooling this year.
"I've been very surprised by the number of people who are interested," said the mother of four.
She said she has a solid commitment from three families and interest from a couple of others.
All are directly related to COVID-19, said Litson.
"We started home-schooling out of necessity because we lived in Africa. And I didn't really have many options."
So when they moved to Edmundston eight years ago, she decided to continue because she enjoyed following her children's education and knowing what they were learning.
So far, she has graduated two and is working on two more.
After schools shut down in mid-March, other parents marvelled at how very little changed for her family.
Litson said she's heard from a lot of parents of what the department calls "vulnerable" children.
"A couple of the families have expressed interest because they have children with disabilities or weak immune systems, and so they're concerned about how those children will adapt to the classroom once they go back to school."
The province lists five steps that a parent or guardian must follow when home-schooling a child:
1. Ensure that the home-schooling option is right for the family.
2. Apply each year for a home-schooling exemption.
3. Plan a home-school curriculum that provides "effective instruction."
4. Establish a regular evaluation and record-keeping habit.
5. Prepare for the student's eventual return to the public school system, post-secondary education or the work world.
"Neither schools nor school districts are required to supply resources or services for the educational programming of children being home schooled," the Department of Education's website says. "However, in some cases arrangements can be made to borrow certain materials from a school for a one-year period.
"These arrangements should be made directly with the school principal. Home schooling is a full-time option. School districts are under no obligation to provide home schoolers with part-time attendance at school, or involvement in school events or extra-curricular activities."