Townships parents ponder homeschooling options

By Gordon Lambie
Townships parents ponder homeschooling options
Mandy Levoy with her boys Viktor, 12, and Emmett, nine. (Photo : Courtesy)

The world of education has been on something of a roller-coaster ride this year as decisions have gone back and forth about how best to run schools in the context of a global pandemic. As that ride makes its way through the twists and turns leading up to the start of the school year next week, one subject that has been getting more public attention than usual is that of homeschooling.
Under Quebec’s Education Act, all children are required to attend school as of the school year following their sixth birthday, but a child who receives appropriate homeschooling may be exempt from compulsory school attendance. In order for their schooling to be deemed “appropriate” a family must notify the Ministry of Education of their intention and present a plan within the following ten days which will then be evaluated at various points through the academic year.
“I know for a lot of families it can be intimidating,” said Charity Kerrigan, who has been homeschooling for the last five and a half years in the Lennoxville area. While stating that she is always proud to present what her family has been working on during mid-term and end of year reviews, she acknowledged that the oversight can be intimidating at first.
Kerrigan explained that, while in favour of the public education system, her interest in homeschooling took root years before she even had children. Now years into the experience with her children, she shared that her family has become something of a reference point for others who have become curious about the idea.
“Since the start of the pandemic we’ve been getting a lot of messages,” she said, adding that the 2 a.m. arrival of some of those questions about whether or not to homeschool in the context of Covid-19 speaks to people’s level of concern.
The Record spoke with two mothers, Mandy Levoy and Jennifer Larose, who said that they were either considering or had decided to keep their children home this year.
“My daughter has lungs that are compromised” Levoy said. “For us, to keep her safe, the best choice to keep her safe is to keep (the kids) home.”
Noting that her one-year-old daughter’s diagnosis of bronchopulmonary dysplasia means that Covid-19 infection in the family could be life threatening, she said that there is little choice but to keep her nine and twelve year old sons home this year.
“We had talked about it for about a month but said we’d wait to see what the plan would look like,” she said. “For me it’s not safe enough.”
“There’s a lot of fear,” said Larose, sharing that she feels the information available about the safety of children in public spaces is too new and limited to be completely trustworthy. “I feel like this is the most vulnerable group,” she said, adding that with expectations and rules having changed so often since the spring, she doesn’t feel like she can trust the government anymore on what is or is not safe.
Among other things, Larose said that her thoughts about keeping her children home are rooted in the fact that the risks of a second wave of infections this fall will come at the same time as the usual flu season and the inevitable other sicknesses that always seem to make their way through schools in the fall and wintertime.
“We’re not going to take that risk,” she said.
Neither Larose nor Levoy has ever homeschooled their children before and both acknowledged that there would be challenges involved.
Levoy is still on maternity leave until December but said that timing would likely be more difficult after she is expected to return to work. In the meantime she said that she plans to turn to experienced homeschoolers that she is friends with for support and ideas as well as some digital resources she hopes to be able to access through the local school board.
“It’s a personal choice,” she said, while also acknowledging that it is a choice not everyone has the time or finances to be able to make. “The boys don’t like it, they want to be with their friends, but they understand.”
“It really comes down to what is best for your family” Kerrigan said, explaining that while her family’s plan was not influenced by a global crisis, “five just seemed to come really fast.”
Although happy to advocate for the benefits of homeschooling from a position of experience, she underlined the fact that people should not launch into it thinking that every day will be a breeze.
“It’s a significant responsibility to take on,” the homeschooler said, sharing that even as a person with a background in early childhood education and a longtime interest in the concept, the reality of homeschooling still threw her some curveballs. “I was still surprised by how differently each child learns,” she added. “I had to have my ego put in check a few times.”
Looking to the tone of the conversation around homeschooling that has been taking place this year, Kerrigan also aimed to clear up some misconceptions about the practice.
“Some people misunderstand; staying at home in your house all day is not homeschooling,” she said, stressing the fact that under normal circumstances most homeschoolers are people deeply involved in their communities and involved in a wide variety of different experience-based, multi-age learning opportunities. “We have memberships to every museum from here to Sarnia.”
Because of this engagement, she added that the common argument that homeschooled children miss out on the socialization of their public-schooled peers often misses the mark.
“I am totally in support of public education,” she clarified, noting that she just feels that there are things to be gained from multi-age learning environments that are missed in a system where children are divided by grade levels.
The Ministry of Education has detailed information on the requirements for homeschooling available in English on its website at http://www.education.gouv.qc.ca/en/school-boards/support-and-assistance/homeschooling/
Asked about increased interest in the option since the announcement of the government back-to school plan two weeks ago, ministry representatives did not respond except to say that 6,066 children were registered for homeschooling in the province as of August 5, versus 5,964 March 10,2020. People can pull their children out of the school system at any moment provided that they give proper notice.

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