The COVID-19 pandemic caused a larger percentage increase in homeschooling statewide than in Wilkes County, according to data from the N.C. Department of Public Administration.

The number of home schools grew from 94,863 in the 2019-20 school year to 112,614 in 2020-21, an 18.7% increase. Home schools in Wilkes County alone increased by 15%, from 1,046 in 2019-20 to 1,207 in 2020-21.

The states estimated that the number of home-schooled students statewide rose from 149,173 in 2019-20 to 179,900 in 2020-21, a 20.5% increase. The number of home-schooled students increased about 19.94% in Wilkes only, from 1,559 in 2019-20 to 1,870 in 2020-21

Enrollment in home schools isn’t exact because the state doesn’t necessarily receive accurate information, or any information, on the number of students in a home school.

Between 2016 and 2021, the number of home schools grew by 39% statewide and the number of students grew by 41%. The number of home schools increased from 784 in 2015-16 to 1,207 in 2021-21 in Wilkes, a 64% increase. There were an estimated 1,195 home-schooled students in Wilkes in 2015-16 and 1,870 in 2020-21, also a 56% increase.

With the 179,900 estimate of home school enrollment in 2020-21, home schools are now the second most popular choice for education in the state after traditional public schools.

The public schools’ share of students statewide and in Wilkes has been dropping for years. Every year from 2016-17 to 2019-20, the number of students served has been going down.

The N.C. Division of Non-Public Education puts enrollment in private schools at 107,341 for this school year, an increase from 103,959 the year before.

The Wilkes County Schools offers home school students the opportunity to participate in public school interscholastic athletics by dual enrolling in public school and middle school classes.

Dr. Donna Cotton, chief academic officer for the Wilkes schools, said one high school student currently dual enrolls and participates in athletics and one middle school student may participate in middle school athletics this year.

Cotton said this is the only Wilkes school policy that directly related to home school students.

“Any home school student is welcome to dual enroll with us. This would mean they remain enrolled in their home school but would enroll for half a day in a Wilkes County public school. Students would do this if there were specific courses we offered that they may want to participate in,” she said.

Cotton said the Wilkes County Schools won’t be able to offer its proposed WCS Virtual Academy because of pending legislation in the General Assembly, “but we would have welcomed dual-enrolled students in the virtual academy if we were offering it. We initially only have one home school family submit an application to enroll in the virtual academy.

The pending legislation is Senate Bill 654. Requires a school number and an assigned principal to a virtual academy along with other requirements.

To dual enrolled and participate in face-to-face classes or virtual classes, a home school student would have to present their home school card from the Division of Non-Public Education.

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