As the 2020-21 school year is fast approaching for some, while already having started for others, more parents are turning to public school alternatives, such as home schooling, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage throughout the U.S.

According to Stephen Howsley, a public policy analyst with the Texas Home School Coalition, the organization has experienced a surge in interest from families across the state as more parents are withdrawing students from public school. According to THSC press release, in July 2019 the organization processed 201 withdrawals; in July 2020, the entity processed 3,114—almost as many withdrawals as were processed in the entire 2019 calendar year.

"We've seen a huge, huge increase," Howsley said. "Back at the beginning of July, the Texas Education Agency ... released their guidelines for what public school is going to look like this fall. And I think a lot of parents were just concerned about their children's health and safety, and also, a lot of the parents were not excited by the guidelines. So I think as a result of that, with the addition of the fact that pretty much all parents were put in a position where they had to home-school back in the spring ... I think, [with] all of those things combined, we just saw an increase in interest in commitment to home schooling from parents across the state."

Howlsey said August could be another record-breaking month as withdrawals have continued as the fall semester nears.

"We're still continuing to see a lot of withdrawals," Howsley said. "I think the first week of August, I saw more withdrawals in that week than I've ever seen in a week in my six years with THSC."

To keep up with this dramatic increase, Howsley said THSC recently relaunched its website to make it more user-friendly for families. Additionally, the organization has been putting extra effort into reaching out to families that are new to home schooling and connecting them with their local home-school support group or co-op.

"We've also set up, kind of, like, a mentor program, where we contact home-school parents that we know that are able to talk on the phone with newer home-school parents and answer questions, and that kind of just allows us to have more bandwidth to reach those families," he said.

Howsley added that parents need only to legally withdraw their student from the public school in which the student is already enrolled; afterward, they can begin home-schooling as early as the following day. For more information about withdrawing a student from a public school, click here.

"We always say that the education that's best for your family is the one that your family agrees upon and is best for your child. Home-schooling has changed so much—and home-school groups and co-ops have grown so much—over the past 30 years that there are a lot of ways you can make it similar to a traditional school. ... You could have your child take classes with other students at a co-op maybe one or two days a week. So they're still going to get that classroom feel even if they are home-schooled if you choose to go that route."

In addition to interaction through local home-school groups, THSC is also pushing for public policy changes at the state level to allow for more inclusion for home-school students. According to Howlsey, the entity has been working for several years in hopes of allowing home-school students to be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities and sports overseen by the University Interscholastic League.

"Home-schoolers have been excluded from those programs for years now. Originally, they were a part of those programs, ... and then, suddenly, they were no longer allowed to participate. We've seen in over 30 other states now that it works very well, actually, to have home-schoolers be a part of those programs and a part of the extracurriculars that happen at public schools. Texas is now in the minority of states that doesn't have those options."

To become a THSC member, families pay an annual due of $120 and receive discounts on required fees for affiliated groups, in addition to access to a variety of resources, curriculum and planning tools, among other benefits. For more information about becoming a THSC member, click here.