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Giving children fresh start after storms

J. Michael Smith, President of Home School Legal Defense Association
A flooded city is a horrible sight. It's hard to comprehend that the instant the levees around New Orleans broke in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, hundreds of thousands of lives were turned upside down, perhaps never to be the same again. And now Hurricane Rita has dealt the battered region yet another blow.

In the aftermath, grandparents, parents, singles, and children gradually have been putting their lives back together. But dealing with the displaced people has proven to be challenging. It has been especially difficult for children. Most children, in particular younger ones, look up to their parents and draw a sense of security from them. Hurricane Katrina washed that sense of security away. Right now, one of the priorities should be to return a sense of normalcy to the lives of children.

Everyone agrees the children need to continue their education. But more than 700 schools in Louisiana and Mississippi are closed or destroyed, which has led to the displacement of 372,000 children-and even more were affected by Rita.

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings recently expressed her concern about how the displaced children will be educated and who will pay for it. I expect the tens of thousands of affected parents are wondering the same thing.

Opening private schools to public-schooled students has been proposed and certainly would help alleviate the situation, and the various government authorities will attempt to find places for all the children in the surrounding public schools. There's no doubt it will take time to work out the details. In light of the pressing need, it may be time for parents to take matters into their own hands rather than wait for a government solution.

Educating children without a school building or administrative staff is exactly what hundreds of thousands of parents across the country do every day. Homeschool families are ideally positioned to help.

A few days after the hurricane struck, Home School Legal Defense Association, through the Home School Foundation, asked its members to focus on helping homeschoolers affected by the flood. More than 5,000 families from all parts of the country responded. We are in the process of trying to meet the needs of homeschoolers in the affected region who would like our help.

Parents who have been thinking about homeschooling may want to use this time as an opportunity to see whether homeschooling is right for them, particularly if their children are having difficulty adjusting to their new environment.

Temporary living arrangements are inherently unstable, especially when parents are seeking employment. A new job may be offered, but it could be in another part of the country. Parents also may end up traveling to different areas seeking work. It will be very difficult for children to regain that sense of security and stability in their lives if they are constantly on the move and shifting between school systems.

Moving around the state, country, or world is stressful for children. It is one of the reasons 10 percent of military families homeschool. Keeping a close bond between parent and child helps alleviate the inevitable shock of moving to different locations and cultures. The parents and the homeschool are the two things that remain constant. Homeschooling parents are willing to help any parent affected by the hurricanes to get started homeschooling. Parents can find help through state and local homeschooling organizations, which are listed on our website (www.hslda.org).

Fortunately, the states in the immediate area-Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Arkansas-do not have minimum teaching requirements to begin homeschooling. Any parent can take advantage of his or her right to direct the child's education. Parents can refer to the HSLDA website for more information on the specific requirements in the various states.

Recovering from the tragedy will be a long-term project. But when the old has been washed away, it's also a chance to begin something new. Many may find this is an ideal time to begin homeschooling.

About this article
This article is based on Mike Smith's editorial by the same title, published in the Washington Times on September 26, 2005.