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Gallatin County has seen an increase in families deciding to home-school their children amid safety concerns over the coronavirus or frustrations with a mix of in-person and remote learning.

Many parents with the means to home-school have said they prefer the certainty and control of creating curriculum and schedules for their children, according to county officials and homeschool experts.

“It’s one of the highest, without question,” said Gallatin County Superintendent Matthew Henry. “It’s unprecedented.”

He said families aren’t required to share their reasons for opting out of the school system and into home school, but anecdotally he’s heard a number of parents cite the coronavirus pandemic and underlying uncertainties.

“I’m pretty confident that we can attribute the surge this year to COVID-related concerns,” Henry said.

But he said those concerns can range from the fear of getting sick to children not feeling comfortable wearing a mask, uncertainty with the staggered schedule or issues with technology and remote learning.

“The increase we’re seeing this year are new first-time, home-school families, former public-school families who for various reasons related to COVID decided to home-school,” Henry said.

Families who decide to home-school their children must notify the Gallatin County superintendent’s office each year, and the notification forms are accepted throughout the year.

As of last October, there were 720 home-school students in K-12 grades, but by the end of the 2019-2020 school year, the number of home-school students had grown to 930, according to the Gallatin County Superintendent’s office

By early September, Henry said his office had received notifications for 1,113 students for this school year. He said that number would likely increase based on past years’ trends.

“My hunch is what we’re seeing with home schooling, I would not be surprised to see the private schools increase too,” he said.

Henry said he would not know more about the private school numbers until the fall count was completed after the first week of October.

But he added Gallatin County has, in recent years, had a strong contingent of home-school students, often one of the largest in the state. He said while coronavirus has certainly played a role in this year’s increase, “it’s not an out-of-the-blue surge.”

“I have seen an explosion in the number of families interested in home-schooling in the last six months,” said Sarah Capp, an administrator with the Gallatin Christian Homeschool Co-op.

She estimated she consulted with six to eight families each week during the summer about different home-schooling options.

“I still have families telling me on a weekly basis that they are very close to pulling their students from the public schools and are going the home-school route due to scheduling, mask-wearing, technology problems and lack of academics,” she said.

Capp, who has been involved with the co-op for the last five years, said her family originally chose to home-school because they liked the flexibility it offered them to tailor the curriculum to each child, coordinate family time together and incorporate a Christian aspect into the education.

“All children can be gifted in some areas and academically challenged in others at the same time, so having a varied approach to schooling is important to us,” she said.

She said another issue for some of the home-schooling families she’s talked with is the safety protocols.

“Home-school students and families have the ability to say when and where their children will be wearing masks, and a large number of the families just avoid places or activities where mask wearing is required,” Capp said.

The families in Gallatin County choosing to home-school aren’t alone. A Gallup poll published in late August, found the percentage of K-12 parents home-schooling their children doubled from last year to 10%.

According to the National Home Educators Research Institute, there were 2.5 million K-12 homeschool students last year, roughly 3% to 4% of school-aged children. But the institute estimated that number could increase by at least 10%.

Even if parents haven’t enrolled their children in a home-school option, they are requesting additional learning materials at a much higher volume. The National Home School Association also announced it had received more than 3,400 information requests in a single day in July. The average number of requests pre-coronavirus was between five and 20 per day.

Capp said she understood home-school is not an easy option for many families, but it did allow more freedom of choice for some.

“Parents get creative when their children and their children’s education matter so much, and home-school families are constantly creating new avenues of learning to blend education, socialization and physical well-being,” she said.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.