Wendy Hilton remembers dropping off her daughter at school one day and wondering if she’d be OK. The place that was once a safe sanctuary for her autistic daughter, now seemed like a target.
“What have I done?” she remembers thinking. “What if something happens to her?”
As school shootings continue to make national headlines, parents fearful of the next mass killer are pulling their kids out of schools in growing numbers, according to home education groups. Some parents are temporarily leaving careers to home-school their children, fearing that dropping their kids off at school could potentially place them in danger.
“It makes us worried, upset, emotional when we think about other moms who feel the way I did when I dropped my daughter off at school that day and think maybe I didn’t do the right thing,” said Hilton, who felt that way after the 9-11 attacks, when she kept thinking: “Maybe I should go back and pick her up.”
There are no national statistics on how many parents are home schooling children following the rise in shootings at schools. But home-school groups say they are noticing an uptick in membership numbers.
The Texas Home School Coalition said its numbers doubled following the deadly school shootings earlier this year in Parkland, Fla., which killed 17 people, and more recently in Santa Fe, Texas that killed 10.
Hilton, a co-founder Hip Homeschool Moms, told Fox News that safety has always been a top concern for parents who choose to home school their children.
But, more recently, because of school shootings almost constantly being in the news, that fear has amplified.
“More parents are investigating homeschooling and honestly, who can blame them?” she said. “As we prayed over those families who had their children brutally stolen from them, we will admit silently saying a prayer of thanks that our children are with us.”
The Hip Homeschool Moms believe more parents would homeschool if they had the resources.
“I’m required by law to place my kids in a public school or private or homeschool, but the state is not accountable in terms of the safety of these children,” Tim Lambert, Texas Home School Coalition president, told The Washington Times. “So we get lots of calls from people saying, ‘Hey my kid’s being bullied, my kid’s being attacked, and the school either can’t or won’t do anything about it, so we’re going to take care of our child. We’re withdrawing him.’”
Another group says the recent school shootings have become the latest tipping point for many parents.
“Homeschooling has exploded in our state,” Christopher Chin, president of Homeschool Louisiana told the Washington Times. “I think what happens with these school shootings is they’re the straws that broke the camel’s back…I don’t think it’s the major decision-maker, but it’s in the back of parents’ minds.”
Parents typically choose home-schooling to provide religious instruction or different values for their kids, because of dissatisfaction with the school’s curriculum, and because of worries about the school environment, according to Brian D. Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute in Salem, Ore.
“Most parents home school for more than one reason,” Ray said. “But when we ask families why do they homeschool, near the top nowadays is concern about the environment of schools, and that includes safety, pressure to get into drugs, pressure to get into sexual activity. It includes all of that.”
The U.S. Department of Education estimates there were 1.69 million home school students in the spring 2016, though states are not required to report numbers. Allen Weston, executive director of the National Home School Association, told Fox News he believes the numbers are much higher.
He said the number of parents pulling their kids out of public school to home school has been growing at record numbers for a variety of reasons.
“I’m not confident that both of the children we still have left in the public school, that they would both come out alive or not seriously harmed,” Nicole Landers, a mother whose kids have faced threats, bullying, and sexual harassment at school, told The Daily Signal.
One teacher, however, believes home schooling is teaching kids to run from reality.
“Even though it seems we may be protecting them, we may be sheltering them instead of teaching them to work and find a solution for the issues and not necessarily running away from them,” Takisha Durm told WAAY 31, “because these things are going to happen."