An increasing number of Galveston County parents want to pull their children out of public schools because they fear another mass shooting, parents and homeschooling groups said.
The May 18 shooting at Santa Fe High School killed 10 people and wounded at least 13 others, and in the aftershock of the local tragedy, many parents want to homeschool or send their children to private school to keep them safe, they said.
Public school experts don’t think that’s the best solution, but said they understand how sensitive families are after the May 18 shooting.
Everything changed that day for parents already uneasy about the increasing number of mass shootings in recent years across the United States.
“That school shooting was 20 minutes from my front door,” Sky Castleberry said. “When it’s that close, it’s scary.”
Castleberry spent an anxious weekend in disbelief something like the Santa Fe shooting could happen here, but on the following Monday, May 21, a series of incidents and rumors of students taking guns to school multiplied. Two students in the county were arrested, including one who took an unloaded gun to League City Intermediate School.
“I said, that’s it,” said Castleberry, who lives in League City. “I can’t do it. I’m sick to my stomach every day worried today is going to be the day it happens.”
SEEKING SENSE OF SECURITY
Castleberry refuses to send her 12-year-old stepdaughter back this fall to Victory Lakes Intermediate School in League City. Instead, she intends to homeschool her. She thinks Victory Lakes is a good school with good teachers, but Castleberry is too frightened and her stepdaughter is too anxious to return, she said.
Jazzalynn McMurrin has already pulled her two sons out of school after the shooting. Her boys attended Lobit Elementary School in the Dickinson Independent School District.
“Until they can put into place a sense of security for all schools and all children, the public school system enrollment will decline tremendously,” McMurrin said. “The question I asked myself was: Why had none of the Catholic or religious schools been a target? My mind tells me because they kept God and prayer in the school system.”
McMurrin is deciding whether she will choose a private school or whether she’ll homeschool her sons, she said.
Kristen Bottstein, a teacher for 30 years, is opening a small private school in Webster and has already met with many parents curious about an alternative to public school. Bottstein describes her school, Wisdom Prep at 17400 El Camino Real, as an alternative for parents who can’t homeschool, she said. She offers an individualized curriculum built to a student’s level. But families are interested in it for other reasons, she said.
‘THEY ARE SCARED’
“Parents just don’t feel safe,” Bottstein said. “They are scared for them.”
Her daughter is one of those parents and decided to not send Bottstein’s grandson back to school this year. Bottstein also taught at Santa Fe Junior High School for three years, and she was riveted by the news coverage, she said.
“I was worried sick,” she said.
Marissa McGee, who lives in Santa Fe and homeschools her children, started a new group after the Santa Fe shooting to help other parents interested in homeschooling. Questions on social media continued to multiply during the week.
“That’s why a friend of mine and I did this, gathering information for parents who want to start homeschooling for the first time,” McGee said. “A lot of parents are thinking about pulling their kids out of school. It’s the added fear and worry. They just don’t feel their kids are safe.”
She’s already advised parents from Alvin, Friendswood and League City, she said.
‘FLOODED WITH QUESTIONS’
The Gulf Coast Christian Home Scholars, an older established organization in the area representing about 500 families, also is busy answering questions after the May 18 shooting.
“We’ve been flooded with requests for information,” organization President Jennifer Coppock said.
“We’ve been answering every email,” she said.
The Texas Home School Coalition has noticed similar spikes in interest, said Stephen Howsley, public policy analyst for the group.
“We have definitely seen an increase in chatter about homeschooling,” “I am sure this is in part due to the shooting in Santa Fe. It is typically common after unfortunate events like this occur.”
Homeschooling is legal in Texas, but the Texas Education Agency doesn’t track homeschooled students.
The Texas Home School Coalition Association estimates more than 150,000 families are teaching more than 350,000 children at home in the state.
The Texas State Teachers Association does not have a position for or against homeschooling, spokesman Clay Robison said.
“Schools do more than educate,” Robison said. “Schools are a socialization point. Schools serve more than the three Rs.”
‘OPPOSED TO ARMING TEACHERS’
Although Texas has more than 1,100 school districts, it has had few school shootings, he said. Parents who decide to homeschool as a way to protect their children might be overlooking some other facts, such as mass shootings happen at places besides schools, he said.
“Are you going to keep them from going to the movies?” Robison said. “Are you going to keep them from going to church?”
The association is interested in what Gov. Greg Abbott suggests for improving security in schools and would be open to most ideas, he said.
“The one thing we are opposed to is arming teachers,” Robison said.
The association also is calling for better mental health services and better screening, he said.
“We understand the fear,” Robison said. “It’s totally understandable. But kids are probably safer in school than other places.”
Parents wind up turning to homeschooling for different reasons, Coppock said. For some parents, it’s because their child was bullied, while for others, it’s because they have a special-needs child. Some want specialized instruction for their child or need an unusual schedule because of other activities.
“It’s amazing how many different reasons people come to homeschooling,” Coppock said. “Typically, they stay for other reasons. They find they enjoy a closer relationship with their children, or they see real progress in how their children learn. They may come out of fear, but they do not stay out of fear.”
Castleberry, who is a homemaker, will have to turn her entire schedule upside down to homeschool her stepdaughter, but she doesn’t think she has much of a choice, she said.
“This is my child,” Castleberry said. “My job is to say I have her back and to protect her. I don’t need to put her in a position where she will be shot.”