RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- Virginia saw a huge spike in homeschooling during the coronavirus pandemic and many parents are planning to stick with it long-term.

Virginia Department of Education data from the 2020-2021 school year shows 59,638 students were enrolled in home education. That’s up from 38,282 in the year prior. Numbers from the current school year have not been finalized but, anecdotally, that trend appears to be continuing, according to the Home Education Association of Virginia (HEAV).

HEAV’s Director of Homeschool Support and Government Affairs Yvonne Bunn said the growth was so significant that they had to increase staff to help connect parents with resources.

“I think it will permanently change the landscape of education,” Bunn said. “I don’t think it will ever go back to the way it was before. We typically saw in Virginia a 10 to 12 percent increase each year but this last year we saw a 48 percent increase.”

When her kids first started school, mother of four Tera Thomas never saw herself switching to home education.

“I used to teach high school English literature and I’ve always joked that I teach high school for a reason,” Thomas said.

With her oldest in the 3rd grade, Thomas noticed her kids weren’t getting enough individualized attention at their public school. They were exhausted by packed schedules and didn’t appear to be enjoying their lessons. She said they were falling behind on fundamental skills in some cases but, under pressure to get through a stacked curriculum, their teachers seemed unable to cater to their specific needs.

Then, when COVID-19 forced classrooms to shut down in March 2020, Thomas got a closer look at what home education could look like.

“I thought, hey, we can do this,” Thomas said.

Still feeling anxious, Thomas made the switch mid-semester. When their school system announced plans to remain all-virtual the following fall, she said it only reinforced her decision.

“I would say that was maybe the nail in the coffin,” Thomas said. “I knew there was no way they would thrive in front of a computer all day. I knew there was no way that they would thrive with masks on their face all day.”

Bunn said every state has its own laws on homeschooling, each with different oversight and curriculum requirements.

“Virginia has a fairly moderate home school law. There are some states that have more stringent laws,” Bunn said.

While some states require parents to be certified to teach at home, Virginia provides a lot of flexibility. Bunn said parents need to either have a high school diploma, be certified as teacher in Virginia or submit a written letter to their local superintendent with a list of subjects they intend to teach requesting an exception. Bunn said students enrolled in a distant learning course are allowed to be home schooled as well.

Bunn said state law does not dictate which subjects parents need to cover but, at the end of each school year, students have to achieve certain standardized testing scores to continue home education.

Thomas said her kids are seeing better test scores than ever. Plus, the flexible schedule works for their family and her children seem happier. She has no plans to re-enroll them in public schools.

“I want parents to be encouraged that you get to have a say in what your kids are doing, who they are, what they become and what they learn,” Thomas said. “You don’t have to do what everybody else is doing. You don’t have to do the conventional thing.” 

Bunn recommends that parents interested in getting started connect with families who have experience with home education. For help, visit this website.