Number of homeschools on the rise in Delaware

Hundreds of homeschools have cropped up this year, with more than 1,000 students statewide enrolling in them.

As of early September, there are 751 new nonpublic schools in Delaware. Nonpublic schools include private, homeschool and mult-ifamily homeschools. Of those 751, only four are private schools. A majority — 723 — are new homeschools, with 24 new multi-family homeschools, according to Alison May, a spokeswoman for the Delaware Department of Education.

The nonpublic school data is self-reported, and enrollment isn’t complete for private schools until Oct. 5.

New nonpublic schools have pulled about 1,582 students. A majority of those are in a new homeschool (1,093); 71 are in new multifamily homeschools and seven are in new private schools.

The existing home- and private schools in Delaware have drawn in 411 new students, with the most (221) to existing private schools. That is closely followed by new students turning to existing homeschools (153); 37 new students joined existing multi-family homeschools.

By comparison, between September 2018 and 2019, there was a net change of 74 more nonpublic schools, Ms. May said.

The shift comes as students are back in class — either remotely or somewhat in-person — following Gov. John Carney’s announcement that public schools could open in a hybrid setting, a mix of in-person and remote instruction. Many opted for remote starts for at least the first six weeks before attempting in-person learning, but others did open their doors and welcome students back.

Downstate, a number of private schools — such as St. Anne’s, St. Andrew’s, Milford Christian Academy — outlined plans for in-person openings.

The students moving to homeschools and private schools are distributed throughout the state. In a board meeting last week, Capital School District administrators noted the enrollment was approximately 6,514, down 91 students from where it was last September. The data suggests that the district has lost 79 students to nonpublic schools, an administrator said.

Caesar Rodney’s enrollment is at 8,110, down from 8,183 in September 2019, but the district didn’t have estimates for those going to nonpublic schools, said Mike Williams, a spokesman for the district.

Milford is seeing a slight increase in the district — 4,320 students total — but Trish Gerken, a spokeswoman for the district, said that homeschooled students still needed to be removed from their numbers and estimated it would be about the same as last year.

Superintendent Patrik Williams said enrollment is flat for Smyrna, at 5,800.

“Right now, we are aware of about 90 students in our community whose parents have decided to home school them,” he said.

The shift to more homeschools is a change that Homeschool Delaware, a private Facebook group for homeschool families in Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland, has seen, said Morgan Wiebke.

The group — which has a website for those not on social media, handde.org — has approximately 2,800 members on Facebook. Mrs. Wiebke, an administrator for the group, said there has been a steady influx of new people since July, with an estimated 30% increase in membership.

“It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen before,” she said.

And it’s a different group of new homeschoolers than they’d seen before, she added.

“The types of homeschoolers that we’re getting now aren’t your typical homeschoolers who are doing this for the reasons that people typically do this,” she said. “We’re getting a lot of people who just want to homeschool temporarily until it’s safe to return to public school. So their needs are very different than the long-term homeschoolers.”

When her son was in second grade in public school in South Carolina, Mrs. Wiebke and her husband realized the system wasn’t meeting their needs. After they found it difficult to work with the school to get extra occupational therapy, they decided they would register as homeschoolers to focus on his therapies.

“We realized about a month in that we could do both and do it better than what he had been getting up to that point,” she said. “Our other two kids followed suit and it’s been wonderful.”

The family moved to Delaware, which is when she found the Homeschool Delaware group, for which she now serves as an administrator. The group helped her transition from South Carolina to Delaware.

“It was just so incredibly beneficial to have the help of people who had been through this process here in Delaware before me (to) be able to mentor me and give me advice as to what we need to do and what we didn’t need to do,” she said.

Now, she’s on the opposite side — helping those new to homeschooling navigate the system.

“We make ourselves available online as often as we possibly can, and we do a lot of one-on-one messenger chat,” she said. “I’ve taken phone calls from maybe half a dozen people throughout the state over the summer.”

Through their Facebook and website, they share additional resources and list available curriculum, from faith-based to secular.

Homeschools can run the gamut, too. Aside from a more “traditional” version, where families homeschool their own children, there are more community-based homeschool options.

For instance, Mrs. Wiebke started a co-op homeschool group last year, where she teaches history and science and other parents assist with certain age groups. Classes can also be “outsourced” to other parents, like physics, where about nine kids in their social circle are learning from another parent.

Multifamily homeschools mean that one parent could take on the legal responsibility of educating another’s child and would be responsible for reporting to DOE every year.

“There’s a lot of options for ways you can work with other people,” she said.

With the switch this year mostly due to coronavirus, she does think there will be families who ultimately decide to stick with homeschool.

“I’m one of those people,” she said. “Our initial intention was to homeschool for one year until my son was eligible for the gifted and talented classes that are offered in third grade typically. … We realized very quickly that this opens up a whole new lifestyle for our family, so I definitely think there are people who will realize that and stick with it.”

But, she added, she knows the important role public schools play in communities.

“We’re very inclusive and accepting of the fact that every family situation is different,” she said. “We’ll do what we can to make sure that our kids are able to make that transition to wherever they decide to go, whenever they decide to do it.”