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Published in Print: May 26, 1999, as Home Schooling Queries Spike After Shootings

Home Schooling Queries Spike After Shootings

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In the weeks after a deadly school shooting spree in Colorado--and the wave of bomb scares and threats of violence against other schools that followed--national home school leaders say they are seeing a spike in parent requests for home schooling information.

And while there's no system in place to track whether safety issues are the primary reason for the increased interest, many parents have specifically cited school violence, home school leaders such as Marcy Krumbine, the president of the Jacksonville-based Florida Parent Educators Association, say.

"I've taken calls where people say, 'I will not put my kids back in school' in light of Columbine and some of the copycat stuff going on," Ms. Krumbine said, referring to the April 20 shootings at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colo., in which 15 people died. ("A Colo. Community Looks for Answers After Deadly Attack," April 28, 1999.)

"The minute something happens that's in the news, my phone calls double because of that reaction," said the 43-year-old mother of three home-schooled students.

But whether those phone calls translate into more parents actually taking the plunge to teach their children at home won't be known until the next school year begins in the fall.

Michael P. Farris, the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association in Purcellville, Va., said, "It's clear a lot more people have thought about home schooling this spring than ever before.

"Every parent has thought, 'Is my school safe?' in light of Columbine. And the question of, 'Well, what are my alternatives,' is pretty natural," he said.

Emerging Issue

School safety was an issue for home schooling families long before the Columbine incident or the series of school slayings that shocked the country during the 1997-98 school year, surfacing most prominently in the past five years, said Brian D. Ray, the president of the National Home Education Research Institute in Salem, Ore. In general, he noted, most parents have multiple reasons for home schooling.

"But for those considering the option, I think this school safety issue is definitely going to bump some people off the fence," Mr. Ray said.

In Colorado, in the month after the Columbine shootings, the state education department fielded 68 calls about home schooling, about 60 percent more than usual, said Suzie Parker, who oversees home schooling for the agency. Like most states, Colorado doesn't require parents to report to the state or school district the reasons why they want to home educate.

"But some people were very vocal and said it was specifically because of safety concerns," Ms. Parker said. "And in some cases, the parents felt the child was safe, but the child didn't and refused to return to school."

Kevin P. Swanson, the executive director of the Denver-based Christian Home Educators of Colorado, said his organization since late April has seen the number of first-time callers grow from an average of 60 a month to about 400. That pace is winding down along with the end of the school year, Mr. Swanson said.

Though many parents who called expressed safety concerns, he said, most already were contemplating home schooling.

"We got a few panic calls, but generally, it's not people who just came upon it. This was just the final push," Mr. Swanson said. "And we tell people, you have to consider the drawbacks, the effort it takes before you make this important decision."

Since the Columbine shootings, 21 students in the 89,000-student Jefferson County district have withdrawn to be home-schooled.

Hard Group To Track

Home school leaders in such states as Arkansas and Georgia, which have had widely publicized school shootings of their own, say they too have gone through similar spikes in interest.

In Jonesboro, Ark., in March of last year, four students and a teacher were shot to death and 10 others were wounded at Westside Middle School. Just last month in Rockdale County, Ga., a 15-year-old was arrested after six students were shot and injured in a common area at Heritage High School, near Conyers.

The lack of hard data on home schooling makes tracking the movement difficult, said Michelle Doyle, the director of the U.S. Department of Education's office of nonpublic instruction. Much of the available information is anecdotal and self-reported. Even estimates on the numbers of students home-schooled, which the department puts at more than 1 million, vary from 700,000 to 2 million.

Steven J. Pratt, the executive director for the Colorado Association of School Executives, said he, for one, isn't expecting a student exodus into home schooling in the fall. "I think once you get past the emotional aspect," he said, "people will realize that schools are still very, very safe places to be."

Vol. 18, Issue 39, Page 3

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