The Washington Times
September 26, 2005

Washington Times Op-ed—Giving children fresh start after storms

by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

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 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 more may be 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. Home-school families are ideally positioned to help.

A few days after the hurricane struck, the Home School Legal Defense Association, through the Home School Foundation, asked its members to focus on helping home-schoolers affected by the flood. More than 3,500 families from all parts of the country responded. We are is the process of trying to meet the needs of home-schoolers in the affected region who would like our help.

Parents who have been thinking about home-schooling may want to use this time as an opportunity to see whether home-schooling 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 home-school. Keeping a close bond between parent and child helps alleviate the inevitable shock of moving to different locations and cultures. The parents and the home-school are the two things that remain constant.

Home-schooling parents are willing to help any parent affected by the hurricanes to get started home-schooling. Parents can find help through state and local home-schooling organizations, which are listed on our Web site (www.hslda.org).

Fortunately, the states in the immediate area, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas, do not have minimum teaching requirements to begin home-schooling. Any parent can take advantage of his or her right to direct the child's education. Parents can refer to the HSLDA Web site 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 a convenient time to begin home-schooling.

Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at 540/338-5600; or send e-mail to media@hslda.org.

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