In the wake of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, at least one local family has decided that home schooling is the safest option for their two young children.
Diamond and Daniel Rodrigue have two young children, 3-year-old Harrison and 1-year-old Chloe. They’re a few years away from school, but Diamond Rodrigue said she’d decided her children could be safer at home than on a public school campus.
“When I had my son, my first baby, Harrison, it was like I had terrible postpartum anxiety, and I’ve had it with both my kids,” Diamond Rodrigue said. “And, you know, that just is what it is. That’s its own separate kind of entity.”
Postpartum anxiety caused her to have intrusive thoughts and irrational fears. When she had her son, Rodrigue said she was already concerned about school shootings.
“You have to, like, maybe learn some meditation skill or whatever, you know, to kind of calm yourself down because it’s like, ‘OK, my baby’s fine, my kid’s fine,’” she said. “And so for the longest time, I thought to myself, campus violence — it’s been a problem for a while. I was like, ‘Oh my God. We’re home-schooling.’”
For moms like Rodrigue, the number of schools that have been the site of mass shootings is still dramatic and frightening. Her fears had subsided. But after 19 children and two teachers were murdered by a gunman in Uvalde last week, Rodrigue took to Facebook to tell her friends she’d decided to home-school her children.
“After this recent shooting, you know, you see that schools are such soft targets for these people,” Rodrigue said. “You know, kids are defenseless. People who go into the school settings and do this kind of thing, they know that they’re gonna get a lot of media attention, because it’s children.”
Rodrigue said she knows she and her family face risks everywhere: at home, on the downtown Denton Square, in restaurants and concerts. But school? Rodrigue said parents have some control over where their children spend their school day.
“If I can control one part of that, and keep them home and teach them how I want to teach them, anyway — and it sucks because I had a great experience growing up in school,” she said.
Already home-schooling, but in search of a safer environment
Denton resident Allison Norris said campus violence and mass shootings weren’t the motivation to home-school three of her four children, but they were a factor. Her oldest daughter graduated from Denton ISD, and Norris said the district left her family wanting when their daughter wasn’t interested in a rigorous Advanced Placement track.
Norris is a native Texan who grew up in Saudi Arabia. She recalls feeling safe in the schools she attended, and her daughter felt safe in Denton schools, but Norris said she has watched as school shootings continue to happen in the United States. She also paid attention to the active shooter drills that have proliferated in schools.
“Now in particular, with as many as has been happening, and with the extremely pro-gun laws that Texas is passing, I would absolutely not send my kids to public school,” Norris said. “Even if home-schooling were difficult for us, and something that we didn’t want to do, I wouldn’t send my my young child to a place where they have to do active shooter drills. It’s inconceivable to me to send children into a place where they have to train in case somebody comes in and shoots at them.”
“Texas has now made it easier than ever for anyone to carry a handgun anywhere and everywhere that they like, with absolutely no training and no licensing and no nothing of any kind,” she said.
Her family is moving to Bloomington, Indiana, in response to Texas’ laws and shifting culture. She called Bloomington “a blue dot in a red state” with lots of resources for home-school families, and she said the city’s library services are especially brisk and high-quality.
“It’s more than just the gun laws in Texas,” she said. “It’s the culture of Texas. And I’m a native Texan. This is not Texas from when I grew up. Texas used to be a very, very friendly place, a very welcoming place. And it was also this sort of attitude of like, ‘Do you for you and your family, and I’m gonna do me and we don’t have to fight about it.’ And that’s no longer the case. At all.”
Home schooling has its limitations, she said. In Denton County, home schooling is largely promoted in evangelical Christian circles. Norris is Episcopalian, but found a smaller community of nonreligious homeschoolers in the area.
“The uniquely Texas brand of evangelicalism is really pervasive,” Norris said. “So it almost becomes a default. So you’re in this position where I can’t send them to a public school for XYZ reasons, and I can’t send them to private school. And I can’t go to some of these co-ops. You have to be really committed to creating that space for your children.”
Home schooling gains popularity among Texans
The Texas Homeschool Coalition, an advocacy group for home-school families and seekers, didn’t respond to a request for an interview by Friday, but the organization’s website said COVID-19 appeared to spur a mass exodus from public schools.
“Data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that Homeschooling in Texas nearly tripled between the spring of 2020 and the fall of 2020, rising from 4.5% to 12.3%,” the group’s website says. “This would translate into more than 750,000 homeschool students in Texas, more than all private school students and charter school students combined. By these numbers, homeschool families in Texas save the state more than 7 billion dollars per year.”
Texas is following a growing trend, the coalition said. Public school enrollment grew by 1% over the last decade, and home schooling was growing between an estimated 2% to 8% over the past several years, according to the National Homeschool Education Research Institute, but education at home grew dramatically between 2019 and 2021.
“According to the U.S. Census Bureau, homeschooling more than doubled nationwide from 5.4% in the spring of 2020 to 11.1% in October of 2020,” the coalition said. “In Texas, it nearly tripled from 4.5% to 12.3%.” Nationwide, the bulk of growth in home schooling has been among Black families.
For perspective, the Texas Homeschool Coalition reported at the start of the 2021 school year that its call and email volume reached nearly 5,000 inquiries in a single week — a number dwarfed by the 5,359,040 Texas students attending public schools during the 2020-21 school year, according to The Texas Tribune.
But coalition President Tim Lambert said the spike in inquiries is five times higher than it was during what termed the pandemic surge.
“[The year] 2020 set records for the number of families interested in homeschooling,” Lambert said in a statement released last August. “Two thousand and twenty-one is now crushing those records. We are literally inundated with calls and emails from thousands upon thousands of families asking how they can begin homeschooling this fall. Families know that in homeschooling they can find a form of education that is flexible and stable at the same time and it comes with a community of families who are ready to help.”
When contacted, longtime Denton homeschool families said that community had grown more diffuse for Denton County home-schoolers. The longstanding Denton County Homeschool Association disbanded last June. Messages sent to the Denton Area Association of Secular Homeschoolers weren’t returned.
The Denton Record-Chronicle reached out to the Secular Homeschoolers of Denton Facebook group, where one member said she’d seen mass shootings and violence discussed on other home-school pages, with multiple families saying they have been discussing home schooling after the recent shooting. Those families didn’t respond to requests for interviews by Friday afternoon.
Norris said associations for home-schoolers is a major undertaking.
“How willing are you to put your own time and effort into creating these spaces for your children?” Norris said. “Because that’s where it ends up failing a lot of times, you know. Hosting a co-op, putting a co-op together, is an enormous amount of work.”
Families with children in Texas public schools are required to submit either a withdrawal form or a letter, signed and dated, signaling their intention to homeschool their children. The forms and letters themselves aren’t public record.
The case for public school
Denton ISD Superintendent Jamie Wilson said he understands parents’ fears and concerns.
He still thinks public schools are safe for students. When Denton voters passed a bond election in 2018, some of the funds afforded security updates: keyless entry doors, impact-resistant film at all entries and robust safety plans and audits at each campus.
In a May 25 letter sent to Denton ISD families after the Uvalde tragedy, Wilson explained that bond money also allowed the district to have more training and drills for staff, and more security cameras throughout campus buildings. An anonymous threat assessment system is monitored 24 hours a day. Wilson also wrote that although the shooting in Uvalde happened hundreds of miles from Denton, it still “impacts our sense of safety.”
Denton ISD had more law enforcement officers on campuses through the end of the year after the Uvalde tragedy.
“We just do everything we can to let everyone know what our protocols are,” Wilson said. “And the number one element any time, of course, is that we have to make sure that that doors are locked and secured. And when you have hundreds of people going in and out of your building each and every day, that’s the biggest challenge.”
District leaders routinely review campus security, and go through tabletop exercises to prepare for the unthinkable. Wilson said Denton ISD families can find reassurance in the partnerships between the district and surrounding police departments. Wilson said Denton ISD works with officials at the Denton Police Department, the University of North Texas, Texas Woman’s University, the Corinth Police Department and the Denton County Sheriff’s Office.
“Public schools are the best option for all of our families simply because of the opportunities that our kids have available to them,” Wilson said. “The wrap-around services and care we have for children. The ability to meet special-needs children, and dyslexic children, and students that come with come to us from a variety of learning backgrounds.”
Wrap-around services connect students with services and nonprofits that can help feed, clothe and access counseling and health care.
“I completely understand parents’ concern for their children and their safety,” Wilson said. “We’ve been going through that with COVID also. We’re concerned for their children’s safety, and what we learned was the best place for students to learn is in our classrooms.”
Wilson said he wants parents to know that their children’s campuses have strong, seamless relationships with local law enforcement, and that these relationships supplement the work teachers, staff and students do to keep their classrooms safe. Teachers coach students to recognize “stranger danger,” he said, and the campus culture is to say something to faculty, staff or administrators if they see something or hear something that worries them.
“We just do everything we can to keep our kids safe,” Wilson said.