Mike Brake | June 28, 2018
School safety concerns help fuel homeschool, virtual school growth
Proponents of educational options in Oklahoma say that many parents who choose to withdraw their children from traditional public schools cite safety concerns as high on the list of reasons.
A December 2017 study by the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board showed that 41 percent of those enrolling children in online schooling cited “bullying or threats from classmates” as a primary reason. That was more than “overcrowding or limited resources” or “problems with staff or administrators,” both of which were listed by 34 percent.
Seventy-seven percent listed a “safe educational environment” as a major plus of online schooling.
Shelly Hickman, communications director for Epic Charter Schools, said Epic receives 35 to 40 applications per day from parents wanting to enroll their children, and that there was a “slight uptick” this spring after the school shootings in Florida and Texas.
“We can’t make a clear connection, but we do think that school safety has been a solid, consistent reason why people have enrolled in virtual school,” she said.
Hickman said that most parents pulling their children from brick-and-mortar schools cite a range of factors, including academic issues. Whatever factors are at work, Epic has grown to serve nearly 20,000 students, making it one of the half-dozen largest school districts in Oklahoma, Hickman said, with 1,299 graduates in the Class of 2018.
The same motivations tend to drive parents who choose homeschooling. While some focus on religious instruction and others stress academic rigor they believe is lacking in many public schools, many homeschool parents also cite safety as a priority.
According to a September 2017 report from the National Center for Education Statistics, there were 1.7 million homeschooled students in 2016, or about three percent of the nation’s students.
“When asked to select the reasons parents decided to homeschool their child, the highest percentage of homeschooled students had parents who said that a concern about the environment of other schools, such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure was one reason to homeschool (80 percent),” the report said.
“The highest percentage of students’ parents reported that among all reasons, a concern about the environment of other schools was the most important reason for homeschooling (34 percent),” the report said. “Seventeen percent of homeschooled students had parents who reported dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools as the most important reason for homeschooling, while 16 percent reported a desire to provide religious instruction as the most important reason for homeschooling.”
Oklahoma homeschool advocates say it is hard to differentiate between an upsurge in interest in homeschooling due to safety issues and the steady increase in interest that has endured for some years, thanks to a multitude of concerns about public schools expressed by parents.
But Paul Rose, president of the Oklahoma Christian Home Educators Consociation, said he has seen a marked trend in recent years in parents opting for homeschooling because of safety issues.
“That was not on our radar screen when this movement started,” Rose said. “In the early years of homeschooling, parents tended to be more concerned with religious issues and having more control over the content of what their children were being taught. Now I would say that at least half are focused on child safety.
“It is a big step for a family to move away from a brick-and-mortar school and assume 100 percent of the responsibility for educating a child,” he said. “There are reasons homeschooling numbers continue to grow each year. And we anticipate that we will see a continuing surge this year as the summer goes on.”
Mike Brake is a journalist and writer who recently authored a centennial history of Putnam City Schools. A former reporter at The Oklahoman (his coverage of the moon landing earned a front-page byline on July 21, 1969), he served as chief writer for Gov. Frank Keating and for Lt. Gov. and Congresswoman Mary Fallin. He has also served as an adjunct instructor at OSU-OKC, and currently serves as public information officer for Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan.