The number of families choosing homeschooling has increased every year since 1985. While there are a variety of reasons families choose to pull their kids out of traditional schools, Channel 9 learned some parents are turning their homes into classrooms because they don't think traditional schools are safe enough for their children.
More students in North Carolina were educated at home during the 2017-2018 school year than the 101,000 children enrolled in private schools.
According to data from the state's Department of Administration, more than 135,000 children in North Carolina were home-schooled during the 2017-2018 school year.
A series of unsettling events at a charter school in Matthews motivated one mother to pull her three school-aged children from traditional schools about two years ago. The mother, who we're calling Susan, asked not to be identified, but invited Channel 9 to her house where her children do their school work daily.
Both her son, a third grader at the time, and her daughter, in fifth grade, found themselves in circumstances that made the mother question their safety. Susan's daughter's experience was the final straw that lead to her decision to home school.
"They did nothing, to protect my children," Susan said, reflecting on the administration's response at the charter school, after she says her daughter became the target of threats from another student.
Screenshots that are too explicit for TV show threats that were published in an online portal that was managed by the charter school. Susan's daughter and at least 10 other students were named as targets.
"The stuff that was said, oh my gosh," Susan said. "I didn't know what these things meant until after I was 30. It was direct sexual and death threats."
Susan said police tracked down the computer that the threats were typed on to a fellow student's home, but she opted not to press charges feeling there wasn't enough proof in the case to take it to court.
"Even the police officer said to me, this sort of thing happens all the time," Susan added.
Disappointed with the school's lack of concern, Susan joined the growing number of parents teaching their kids from home.
Brenda Kresak is the mother of six boys, all of whom are home schooled. It's an option she chose several years ago when her now-teenage son, Ian, was in elementary school. He became the target of bullies.
"He was not having great interactions with some of the other students," Kresak told Channel 9. "We just sat back and said, we're moving to Charlotte. What a better time than now to start homeschooling."
Safety is just one reason some parents choose to home school. Some like the flexibility to choose the curriculum based on their children's interests. Other say public schools don't adequately support children with special needs. Whatever the reason, the number of students in home schools is growing.
In 1985, there were just 809 home schools registered with the state of North Carolina. By 2000, the number grew to more than 33,000. During the 2017-2018 school year, nearly 136,000 students were home-schooled.
It's a trend State Representative Mark Brody, a Republican who represents Union and Anson Counties, supports. He co-sponsored a bill that would give a tax credit to home school families.
"The state pays about $8,000 per student to educate them," Brody told Channel 9 during a phone interview. "What we're saying is just a fraction of that would cover some of the costs of actually running a home school. You have to buy books and supplies, etcetera. It helps cover those costs."
Kresak knows her tax money pays for her boys to attend public school. Despite the financial burden to home-school, Kresak says it's the best choice for her family.
"That would be a huge blessing," Kresak said, describing why she believes homeschooling families should get an incentive. "I work part-time to help offset the cost of homeschooling for my six boys."
Kresak is well-embedded in the Charlotte-area homeschooling community. As the organizer of several social groups, she works hard to defy the stereotype that home-schooled children lack social lives.
"I think maybe we as parents go overboard in order to combat that stereotype," Kresak said. "Our social calendar has us out of the house every single day."
Using social media to network with other homeschooling families, there is a world of extracurricular activities, educational events, and "co-ops" that cater to home-schooled children.
Kresak invited Channel 9 to a monthly "Top Chef" event in Weddington in March. It's a potluck lunch where students compete to bake the best dish.
Kresak said there are new faces in attendance every month.
(Monthly "Top Chef" Event)
"I have parents who come in who have taken their child out of the school mid-year, because of bullying and they need resources," Kresak said. "They need help. They need a community that will guide them."
She and Susan both believe traditional schools are overwhelmed, and unable to keep a close enough eye on their kids.
Susan, who lives in Butler High School's district, became emotional talking about the shooting last Fall inside the school. A child was killed in the hallway, and the life of the child that fired the gun was forever changed.
"I don't want you to video tape me crying," Susan said, wiping tears from her eyes as she discussed the impact the shooting had on the community.
"Did what happened at Butler reaffirm your decision (to home school)?" Channel 9's Kristin Leigh asked.
"Yes," she said. "Absolutely."
"For us right now, this is the best option," she added. "I just don't want to expose them to what they've been exposed to already."
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