Why Some Nebraska Parents Are Homeschooling During The Pandemic
By Melissa Rosales , Reporter/Producer Nebraska Public Media
Oct. 12, 2021, 7 a.m. ·
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Last school year there was a surge of homeschooling in Nebraska. That number dropped this year, but the homeschooling trend is still up.
In 2019, an estimated 9,450 students were homeschooling in Nebraska. Last year, during the pandemic, that number zoomed up to 14,780. This year it’s back down to about 10,525, but that’s still the highest total on record except for last year’s.
Parents have different reasons why they chose to homeschool their kids, like Tom Ulrick of Beatrice. He’s concerned his daughter could catch COVID-19. He pulled her out of school last year after he went to a school board meeting and heard anti-maskers speak up.
"They're just not taking it seriously," he said "And I just can't do that. It risks the safety of my child."
The Nebraska Department of Education can’t impose mask mandates on schools. It’s up to local districts, like Beatrice Public Schools who made masking optional this year. Ulrick said he’s frustrated he can’t rely on his school district. But, parents who are against mask wearing also felt the same way.
"So either parents didn't want their kids in masks, or their parents wanted all the kids masked and all the vaccinations," Ashley Mason said. "So one side of that spectrum or the other."
Mason manages five homeschooling groups on Facebook, including Homeschooling in Nebraska, Beatrice Homeschool group, Nebraska Easy Peasy Homeschool Chat Group, and Large Families Using Easy Peasy. She said a Beatrice family started homeschooling their kids in January because students and teachers were bullying them for not wearing a mask.
"The teachers would then accuse them of not being strong enough, or at the same time accuse them of killing their friends' grandparent because they wouldn't wear the mask," she said. "And now their grandparent was going to be dying of COVID."
The family went back to public school this year when the district announced masking was optional. Out of the over 1,500 families Mason has spoken with, she said most of them didn’t want their children wearing masks for seven or more hours a day. However, Liz Davids, president of Heartland Homeschoolers, said the curriculum is another reason for homeschooling.
When school turned virtual because of the pandemic, Davids said moderate, conservative, and religious parents discovered they didn't always agree with what their kids were learning. They decided to teach their children at home instead.
"A lot of traditional families are saying, the values that are in the public schools are not reflecting our values," she said. "So, we want to pass on our values to our children."
Davids said there are concerns about proposed health standards, including sex education, and the prospect of critical race theory.
David Jespersen with the state Department of Education said health education standards are on hold and critical race theory is not part of any state standard.
"Individual school districts, however, have complete control over what curriculum they choose to teach to those standards," he said.
Still, Kathryn Dillow, president of Nebraska Homeschool Association, said the increase of students being homeschooled this year compared to 2019 shows a continuing trend. But Jespersen said the fact students returned to public schools this year is what the department expected.
"What that tells us is that families are more comfortable with both the pandemic, how to handle it themselves, and how schools are handling the pandemic, and the procedures that are in place in schools," he said.
Jespersen said the pandemic shed light on the choices parents have and ultimately they have the final say on how they want to educate their children, whether that’s in a public school, private school, or at home.
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