The number of homeschooled Wisconsin children saw its largest increase since 1984 last school year, suggesting that the COVID-19 pandemic convinced many parents to take their kids’ education into their own hands.

Unlike public school enrollment, which has decreased over the last few years, homeschool enrollment has been slowly increasing. Homeschooled students accounted for just 2.2% of all students in the 2019-2020 school year, but that percentage grew to 3.25% of students in 2020-2021.

With homeschool enrollment increasing by 47% since last school year, and virtual learning becoming more common, more parents are homeschooling their children. And those who have been homeschooling for years are feeling validated.

Missie Crisp, an administrator of the Facebook support group Homeschoolers of Western Wisconsin and board member of Eau Claire Virtual School, said that it was interesting how the pandemic brought about new schooling options — choices that helped ease the stress experienced by parents, students and teachers.

“For years, homeschooling has had an interesting stigma/stereotype,” Crisp said. “It’s been kind of bittersweet over the past year and a half to see how a virus has suddenly made homeschooling more accessible and acceptable to many.”

Rev. Joshua D. Andrew, a homeschooling father in Eau Claire with a PhD in education, said he believes that the number of students being homeschooled are steadily increasing as parents find themselves in one or more of the following three categories.

“Pedagogues” are parents who believe that public schools represent a flawed system with outdated resources, misguided policies, and under-trained and overworked teachers. These parents, often with backgrounds in education, believe they can do a better job away from the limitations of the public school system.

“Ideologues,” parents who see public schools as forcing a particular political or social agenda that undervalues or undermines their own. These parents — either motivated by political or religious convictions, or desire to preserve minority cultural customs and traditions—elect to educate their children according to their own values.

Andrew said “a third group of parents have emerged in the homeschooling community. “These parents disdain the public-school environment due to safety reasons, such as school violence, bullying, or the recent COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Other “environmental” objections concern the perceived inability of public schools to provide for a student’s special needs or adhere to their Individualized Education Program (IEP). “Desiring a safer or more accommodating alternative for their children, these families choose to homeschool permanently or in the interim as they seek alternative options. My wife and I choose to homeschool due to a blend of all three rationales,” Andrew said.

Kristin Lokkesmoe, of Eau Claire, said homeschooling for the past 20 years has allowed her to more fully interact with her children at each stage of their development. She said she has also seen closer relationships develop between her children, watched them become more independent learners and enjoy greater freedom to explore interests beyond the required core curriculum.

In addition to the flexibility that comes with homeschooling, many parents of children with disabilities who require individualized accommodations, find that taking matters into their own hands is often the best option for their student.

Peg Linge, another member of the Western Wisconsin Homeschooling Support Group, has a son with ADHD, auditory processing deficit and multiple forms of Ddyslexia. Linge said his school did not have the resources to address his son’s particular needs, so he fell behind, which resulted in teasing and bullying.

Linge described her son as bright, creative, loving and motivated to keep up with his classmates.

“I decided to take on my son’s education to free him from the confines of public school,’’ Linge said. “He may not have been able to recite multiplication facts, but he can cook a stunning roast.”

Eau Claire mothers Lindsay Garcia and Kristen Enerson both decided to begin homeschooling their children this year because they believe with the stress and uncertainty that the pandemic brought last year and may bring this year to school districts, the learn-from-home format and curriculum can help their children succeed better.

For parents unsure about whether or not to homeschool their child, many members of the Homeschoolers of Western Wisconsin support group advise parents to trust their instincts.

“For parents deciding to homeschool, breathe, relax, be patient, flexible and kind to themselves,” support group member Candy Christianson said. “Trust that you know what’s best for your kid and if you don’t get everything done that day there is always tomorrow and if you are having a bad day, stop. If it’s a good day, double up. Kids are constantly learning.”

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