More parents turn to homeschooling as potential option amid pandemic

With no mask mandates or virtual options, Kimberly Thompson felt she had no other choice but to have her kids learn from home for another year.

"With the numbers, it's really wild," Thompson said. "It's not at all like last year."

So she pulled both of her kids, too young to be eligible for the vaccine, out of Hamilton County Schools the day before classes went back into session again.

"It's so sad that they have to be home," she added.

Her kids join the estimated almost five million students who are homeschooled. That's nearly double what it was before the pandemic.

"A lot of it might not be as bad, but who wants to see their kids struggling to breathe? It really does affect them," Thompson said. "We don't know what are going to be the long-term effects."

In Tennessee, an estimated 13.2% of students were homeschooled last year, according to U.S. Census data. That school year saw a 7.8% increase in students learning outside of regular school curriculum compared to 2019.

"We're seeing a lot of people who just aren't sure if a classroom is the best environment for their child at this time," said Janell Bontekoe, a board member for the Chattanooga Southeast Tennessee Home Education Association.

Bontekoe also homeschooled all of her children. The first question she typically gets: How?

"And then, often, that's followed up too with: 'Can I do it?'" she added.

Federal law requires parents to either register their homeschooled children with their local school district, or enroll them in a homeschooling program for guidance on curriculum. 

"It gives them the opportunity to structure that education to their child," Bontekoe said. "You don't need to feel like you're by yourself, and you don't know what to do."

But it can still be a challenging responsibility for a parent to take on, something Thompson is already learning and Bontekoe said parents should give themselves some grace with.

"I'm hoping it gets under control," Thompson said. "And if it does, I would get them right back into school."

C.S.T.H.E.A. has a host of resources online for parents interested in homeschooling