Homeschooling numbers surge in Virginia during pandemic and public education conflict

After two years of extraordinary growth, approximately 62,000 homeschool families in Virginia now represent about 5 percent of the state’s total public school enrollment – one of the highest proportions nationwide.

The Home Educators Association of Virginia, or HEAV, has experienced the increased interest firsthand in fielding more than 21,000 phone calls from parents since September.

“I think it will permanently change the landscape of education,” said Yvonne Bunn, the association’s director of government affairs. “I don’t think it will ever go back to the way it was before.”

Educational freedom

Many analysts agree the top reason for choosing to homeschool involves parents’ dissatisfaction with the current school system.

The election of Republican Glenn Youngkin as governor signified a renewed emphasis on parental rights to educational freedom in Virginia.

Former Democrat governor, Terry McAuliffe, had stated in a debate against Youngkin that he didn’t think parents should be telling schools what to teach their children. He also supported a controversial gender policy that would have required teachers to use students’ preferred pronouns and allowed students to use locker rooms and restrooms of their chosen gender identity.

Even before the election, Virginians such as Tera Thomas were withdrawing their children to homeschool when schools shut down and switched to virtual or remote options in response to the pandemic.

“We knew there was no way our kids were going to enjoy being on a computer all day,” Thomas said in an interview with the Virginia Mercury.

The newspaper also notes how families had expressed dissatisfaction with public school philosophies of critical race theory, or CRT. In Loudoun County, for example, parents at school board meetings shared concerns over CRT in teacher education and trainings.

“I think parents really want to impart their own values to their children – their values and beliefs and their own worldview,” Bunn said. “And that is a major reason parents are homeschooling.”

Benefits to homeschooling

The Thomas family has discovered significant benefits for their three children after choosing to homeschool for the past two years. A former high school English teacher, Thomas said she can share ideas on how to facilitate learning at her local homeschool co-op.

“You don’t really get to have those conversations in the public schools,” she said. “You just are kind of at the mercy of whatever they’re choosing to do – ‘one size fits all.’ “

Homeschooling also provided her family with an opportunity to learn real-life skills by spending a weekend at a local farm.

“My kids came home knowing how to raise chickens and process chickens and rabbits. It was hands-on,” she said. “Some people might not see value in that, like ‘How is that teaching you math and other things?’ But it does teach a level of work ethic and self-sustainability and how to take care of animals well.”

Thomas also recommends finding a homeschool support group to build community and a common purpose.

“There’s this idea that home-schoolers are unsocialized – weirdos, for lack of a better term. But there’s a huge network of people” involved in home-schooling, she said. “We have more of a community of friends and parents than we ever did in the three years that we were at Springfield Park.”