The conversation about safety goes beyond the walls of school buildings and into the homes of many East Tennessee families, as some parents weigh the options of keeping their kids in public school or taking them out to home school.
Mandy Tiejen, a mother of three children, has always chosen public school for education, up until two years ago.
“My daughter was a kindergartener when Sandy Hook happened. I remember standing at the bus stop where we pick the children up with a neighbor, just crying,” said Tiejen. “Thinking that could be anywhere, it’s just way too close to home.”
Nowadays, Tiejen teaches her children, right in the comfort and security of her own home. Reports of violence in schools wasn’t the original reason Tiejen began homeschooling her children, but she says it’s a big reason she’s still doing it.
“The other day I was at the dentist office and the woman’s hands were kind of shaking, I asked her if she was okay. She said she just got a text that my kid’s school is on lockdown. I could feel that for her, but I didn’t have to feel it with her. You almost feel guilty,” said Tiejen.
It was her daughter’s third grade year when Tiejen noticed Avery was struggling to learn at school.
“It wasn’t the best thing ever. I hated fire drills and all the drills. they would either make me cry or have nightmares,” said Avery Tiejen.
Terry Simpson is an education professor at Maryville College and he’s seen more families transition to homeschooling over the years. With the increase in school shootings, he says safety plays a role in a parent’s decision.
“The parent has a debate and that debate centers around the safety of their child. I am not going to criticize a parent for the choice they make there, because many times it’s a very difficult choice,” said Simpson.
According to a Department of Education study, 91 percent of parents list a “concern about the environment” as a top reason for homeschooling.
Simpson says statistically, the most dangerous place for a child is to be at home, with the safest place at school.
“It’s structured. There’s someone in school that’s in charge of your child, especially elementary school, all day long. They’re supposed to be in this class, eat lunch at this time,” said Simpson.
At the home of another East Tennessee family, the Richards are excited about their 16-year-old daughter Liza-Hill finishing up her online classes, so she can join her friends at public school in the fall.
“I learn better in a very social environment. So whether they’re friends or not, just being around people, maybe it’s kind of a competitive thing, I don’t know. It just makes me want to learn because I know everyone around me is too,” said Liza-Hill Richards.
Jill Richards, her mother said, “I used to say, no we would never do it, and then as my kids started getting older, I started thinking oh well you know, they were ready for it.”
It’s hard for Jill Richards to let go after helping teach her kids for so many years, but she’s not letting fear of what’s going on in the world stop her family from new opportunities.
“They could be in a car crash this afternoon and there are so many things out of my control, that I don’t feel like school shootings are the reason for me to make this decision,” said Jill Richards.
“I’s pretty hard to think about because i know i’m safe in my own home. going somewhere where you’re not 100 percent safe, it’s definitely something that has crossed my mind,” said Liza-Hill Richards.
Liza-Hill is hoping the higher expectations in public school will keep her motivated.
As for the Tiejen family, homeschooling provides the extra attention they need.
Both families we talked to say the best way to find out what’s best for your kids is to look into all your options. If you’re thinking about homeschooling, find parents who can share their experiences. If your children are going into public school, visiting campuses and talking to administrators can also be a big help in your decision making.