Our local homeschooling group has had a recent influx of homeschoolers who are trying homeschooling for a very sad reason: the schools failed their children. In one particular case, the elementary school for our neighborhood failed in a huge way.
Out of respect for the family, I won’t go into details. Their child was assaulted on the elementary school bus by another child in our neighborhood. The bus driver filed a report, the parents filed a police report. The school did …. nothing. Their investigation came up short after the other kids on the bus didn’t confirm the incident (which brings up a whole new can of worms.)
This particular family was already fighting the elementary school trying to get them to honor the IEP from their other child’s previous school. The school here refused to honor the IEP, and told the family that they would only schedule 2 diaper changes a day – and if the child didn’t conform to that schedule they would have to sit in a mess for hours. Unhealthy, and if I did that Child Services would charge me with child abuse.
Instead of letting the family deal with the assault and heal as suggested by medical professionals and the police, the school decided to force the child to return to school. They sent the police to the family with truancy charges. The same police who were investigating the assault! The police advised the family to do what they needed to do, and the family is now getting ready to homeschool.
Words fail me. Because this incident hit home in a big way. This child could have easily been my child. This school is the school he would have attended. This response – truancy charges and ignoring the issues – is what we would have dealt with if we had sent the Engineer to this elementary school.
Now, please understand that I am not condemning all public schools. This is certainly not how all of them handle an IEP or an incident. I am condemning this school – the leadership of this school – and the hard-hearted, policy sticklers who further traumatized the family with their truancy charges.
In fact, according to Gifted Homeschoolers Forum’s latest survey, the majority of homeschoolers have either been in the public school system or plan to return at some point. We homeschoolers are closely linked to the public school system in many ways. Because of that, I can’t make a general statement about the horrors of public school: because it’s not always the case. So I’m just talking about this case. This kid. This school.
So what do you do in this kind of situation? What’s your recourse? If the school has a strict absence policy, how do you handle that while still keeping your child emotionally and physically safe? Here are a few things you’ll want to do as you manage the situation and help your child cope while you transition to homeschooling.
1. Get legal
Schools in our area seem to be fairly knee-jerk in their response to absences. Check the limit of absences for the year, and if you will exceed that limit get written confirmation from the school extending it. If they refuse to extend it, do the paperwork to pull your child out of school NOW and don’t wait until you have everything ready to homeschool. For example, our state requires a Notice of Intent plus a few supporting documents (evidence of ability to teach, basically.) Once you submit that NOI here, that’s it. The child is no longer in the VA public school system.
For information on the legal requirement in your state, check this link from the ProPublica website. Your local school system website should also have more information, and you can always search for your state requirements on a web engine too.
If you’re pulling your child out in the middle of the school year, it’s a good idea to call the office or send them a copy of the paperwork, even if it’s not required. The people who handle the homeschooling notice are generally part of the school superintendent’s office, not the specific schools. Sometimes it takes a little while for the information to trickle down. If you notify the school specifically, even if not required, you can avoid additional truancy issues before they happen.
Keep in mind that if you have truancy charges prior to pulling your child from the system, electing to homeschool will not erase those charges. You will still need to go through the process of dealing with the charges in whatever way the school system handles them.
What’s deschooling? It’s giving the kids a chance to learn and relax without pushing educational stuff. Deschooling generally includes a lot of child-led learning, lots of visits to the library, nature walks, science centers, museums, the zoo, and so on. Make it fun. Make it “not school.” Don’t worry about catching them up – it’s more important that they have a chance to heal and feel safe.
You might be asking – “how long do we deschool? It doesn’t feel like learning!” There is no short answer for that, but I’ve been told to deschool a month for every year the child has been in school. The longer a child has been in the system, the longer it takes for them to adjust to the differences of homeschool. And it’s not just about the child – it’s about you too! You’re just as used to “school” being a certain, institutionalized, way of doing things as they are. You need time to adjust too.
Please note that deschooling doesn’t mean ignoring your child or no learning. It’s learning the fun way. Learning through life, through the child’s interests. It’s not educational neglect, it’s a more vibrant, hands-on, interesting way of learning than pouring over curriculums and doing math worksheets. In fact, you might like it enough to continue doing it – and that’s called unschooling!
3. Get Involved
Find the local homeschooling groups. Get in touch with the homeschoolers in your area, and start going to meet ups, play dates, and field trips. Homeschoolers are a great resource, and are usually very helpful to new homeschoolers. Ask questions, get the support you need, and find a new group of friends to help your child not feel lost and alone in this new homeschooling world.
Local homeschoolers will have the information you need on local classes, co-ops, and different things to do in your area. In general, homeschoolers are a welcoming, helpful bunch of people. Take advantage of that to learn the basics and get ideas.
Seriously. This seems so overwhelming and tough! If you weren’t planning to homeschool and you weren’t exactly enthused by the idea (::raises hand::) then feeling like you’re forced into homeschooling is a big stressor by itself. Add the weight of the responsibility for your child’s education, and you might just have a mental breakdown if you dwell on it too much.
Breathe. Homeschooling is a minor extension of what you’re already doing. You’re a parent, right? You’re already teaching! This is just adding a few things and expanding your role. You can do this. And it’s really not as hard as you might be worrying it is.
Homeschooling classes abound. Co-ops exist to help parents who don’t love dissecting frogs or teaching algebra. There are online options that can take the burden off of your shoulders. Don’t freak out – this is completely doable!
5. Start Looking For Curriculum
Notice I said start. Don’t go out there and blow a ton of money on stuff and expect it to work. Kids have different needs, and curriculums have different styles. Most curriculums offer samples, either online or by mail. Do samples. Seriously – order every sample you can get your hands on. Let the kids have a say in which one they like the best, and don’t be afraid to mix and match curriculums. Most kids do not do well with an all-in-one curriculum because they advance at different speeds in each subject.
Start off with the free, online things to get a feel for how your child learns. Try the assessments at MobyMax when it’s time to start more academics, and look into DiscoveryK12 for a complete, free curriculum. Look into Khan Academy for free, online courses and lessons, and Crash Course on YouTube has lessons for free as well. Prodigy math (grades 1-8) offers free math lessons in a game format, and Teachers Pay Teachers sellers are required to list free resources as well. Just filter for free and do a search for your subject or interest.
I should note – before you search for curriculum, decide if you’re going secular, faith neutral, or faith based. What does that mean? It sounds confusing, right?
Secular curriculums tend to be more rigorous and follow strict guidelines accepted by the scientific community. A quick check for secular curriculums is if they include evolution and climate change. For things like history, secular curriculums will include a less euro-centric worldview and an academic look at world religions. Secular language arts will not include bible verses for copy work, for example, or hymns to memorize (this is a thing, I’ve seen it!)
Faith neutral curriculums will not have religious content, but they will also not include anything potentially controversial. So neutral curriculums will not teach evolution, for example, or will state that different people believe different things. Neutral curriculums omit much that students need to have a balanced view of the sciences in particular. Neutral curriculums are not secular.
Faith based curriculums are the overwhelming dominant kind of curriculum. Faith based curriculums are Christian, and they actively include faith materials in their teaching. History lessons will include bible stories, language arts would include bible stories, and copy work would include bible verses and so on. They incorporate a Sunday school kind of lesson into the daily academics, and it is impossible to separate the faith material from the educational material if that was your goal. Faith based curriculums often tend to be softer (and sometimes inaccurate) on the sciences.
In general, most curriculums will state their alignment, although some neutral curriculums will claim to be secular and confuse the issue.
Even though you may not have planned this journey, homeschooling is a great way to help kids learn and grow in a safe environment. You may find yourself loving it so much that you never go back to traditional schooling! You may find a compromise with a dual model (enrollment in a few public school classes or community college classes) while continuing to homeschool. There are so many variants on homeschooling that you can be flexible and find a great option for your family. It’s possible. It’s not overwhelming (although it might seem that way.)
Need some more ideas? Check out Goodwin and Gustavson’s book “Making The Choice: When Typical School Doesn’t Fit Your Atypical Child” for guidance and encouragement for gifted/2e families as they decide which direction to turn after traditional school fails them.