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Homeschooling In California Sees Boom; Looming Kids' COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate May Be Driving Increase

FAIRFIELD (KPIX 5) – California is seeing a boom in homeschooling. State numbers show it's more than doubled since before the pandemic.

A controversial factor is possibly driving the increase. Nicole Nowling plans to pull her four children out of the Fairfield Suisun Unified School District if California enforces a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for kids.

"When you have the government essentially telling you, 'We're gonna tell you what to do, and what's best.' That's a hard pill to swallow," she said.

Although she and her husband got the shot, they didn't want it for their kids, all under age 12.

"Nobody can actually say, '''cause we studied for 5, 10 years that this in the long run is completely safe,'" explained Nowling.

She would join an increasing number of parents who homeschool.

Although the state does not count the number of homeschooled children, it does keep track of the number of private school affidavits that must be filed to independently educate five or fewer students.

Last year, 34,888 affidavits were filed, a 55% increase over the year before. And more than double compared to pre-pandemic years.

Consultant Jamie Heston saw the homeschool explosion in her free workshop Homeschool 101.

She was teaching up to 30 people each quarter and then the pandemic hit.

"I was overwhelmed. I started doing them weekly and had 50 to 100 people every time, every week," Heston said.

Interest spiked again when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last fall plans to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required school immunizations. That was the same day as the homeschool filing deadline.

"That day, every Facebook group that I'm aware of blew up with people joining it," Heston said. "We had a lot of panicked people who were just really upset and not sure where they were going to go."

Last week, the Newsom administration delayed the requirement through at least summer 2023.

Besides the state vaccine mandate, many parents are monitoring state legislative proposals:

One would allow kids aged 12 and older to get the vaccine without their parents' permission or knowledge.

Another bill would eliminate the personal belief exemption in mandating the vaccine for kindergarten through 12th graders.

It's one of the reasons why Jessica Ortiz walked out of her speech therapy job and pulled her second grader out of his private school.

"I should have the choice what goes into my son," Ortiz explained.

She's been homeschooling for several months.

"I just wanted to focus on something that allows us to have a choice, and that's where homeschooling works perfect for us," said Ortiz.

But for Nowling. "I would definitely be put in a position of having to homeschool four children, including a son that's autistic that has special services that he's supposed to have access to," she said.

Homeschooling would not be easy, but at least, Nowling says, it gives her and her husband a choice to do what they think is best for their kids.

Note: Of course, parents cite many other reason for choosing to homeschool, including more individual instruction, keeping kids safe, and dissatisfaction with distance learning.

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