Kerry Higdon's 10-year-old son Kol has attended private school, public school, and a Montessori school, but he never thrived no matter what type of school.
"He's so bored that he acts out," said Higdon, who lives in Edinburg.
So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020 and schools began virtual learning, Higdon took the opportunity to try homeschooling.
It also helped that her job at American Woodmark in Winchester permitted her to work from home.
Now that she's more than a year into homeschooling, she said she doesn't see herself sending Kol back to a traditional school environment.
There's no set curriculum in Higdon's household, she said, adding that she's "making it up as we go" and that she focuses on material her son needs to work on more. When her son took a state required standardized test for homeschooled students, she said her son did "just fine."
If her son is bored, Higdon said she just gives him more challenging work.
"Homeschool happens literally everywhere at all times," Higdon said. "Just because we're not sitting down with me lecturing him and him taking notes does not mean we're not actually homeschooling."
Parents have various reasons for homeschooling their children, but it seems the pandemic caused a big shift for some school divisions. As of March of this year, 11% of U.S. households were homeschooling their children, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Just six months before — in September 2020 — the percentage was 5.4%.
In Warren County Public Schools, 7.6% (445 students) of students were being homeschooled in 2019-20, but by the 2020-2021 school year that percentage had grown to 10.2% (589 students), according to Virginia Department of Education data.
In Shenandoah County, the percentage was 4.3% (271) of students homeschooling in the 2019-20 school year, which grew to 6.2% (384) being homeschooled for the 2020-21 school year.
In Frederick County Public Schools, 3.9% of its students were homeschooled in 2019-20, peaked to 6.5% in 2020-21, and dipped to 4.8% this academic year.
Winchester Public Schools appeared to be the least impacted, with 1.9% of students being homeschooled in 2019-20, 2.1% in 2020-21 and 2.3% in 2021-22. WPS had 102 homeschooled students in the 2020-21 school year and currently has 93 homeschooled students.
Clarke County may have the most impacted by the switch to homeschooling. The percentage of homeschooled students in CCPS jumped from 6.9% in the 2019-20 school year to 12.4% in 2020-21 and then dipped to 11.4% for the 2021-22 school year.
Clarke County Public Schools Superintendent Chuck Bishop believes a majority of the homeschooling surge in Clarke County can be attributed to COVID-19. With brisk home sales in the county in the past two years, Bishop said it’s also possible some people who moved to the county recently were already homeschooling.
Bishop also noted that as increasingly controversial policies are put into place in Virginia schools, such as mask mandates and transgender student’s civil rights protections, some parents may also choose to homeschool their children in protest.
“Let’s be honest, some people disagree with mask mandates,” Bishop said.
Overall, the homeschooling surge creates an issue for public schools because there is less money in state funding, which is based on student average daily membership, Bishop said. It’s possible the homeschooling trend may have long term impacts on the school division, he added.
As public schools returned to in-person learning five days per week this school year, students have slowly been returning to the classroom, area school administrators noted.
But there may still be parents, like Higdon, who have fallen in love with the teaching model and don’t plan on going back anytime soon.