Friday, October 07, 2005

Exercising Their Options In Louisiana

In the wake of Hurricane's Katrina and Rita, more parents in Louisiana are now choosing to homeschool their children:
But Galjour -- like hundreds of other parents across Louisiana -- has been handed a second, unpaid job: She'll be home-schooling her 12-year-old son, at least until classes start again in Plaquemines Parish, where six of nine schools were washed away by the storms.

"I think it will be a challenge just to get him to sit down and listen to me," Galjour said, juggling four fat textbooks she had just picked up.

Across Louisiana, families are turning to home-schooling as officials scramble to reopen shuttered schools. At least 800 families in Plaquemines Parish alone are affected, according to school officials.

Nationally, about 1.1 million students are home-schooled, according to the U.S. Department of Education, a movement that's been growing steadily for decades. Usually, though, it's not a decision made under duress, since home-schooling demands patience and commitment from both parents and students.

"This is a beautiful short-term solution, especially given where we are now," said Stephanie Riegel, a New Orleans resident now relocated to Baton Rouge with twin 9-year-old girls.

Louisiana has done its best to encourage parents not to leave the public school system, urging them instead to enroll in schools wherever they've landed, said Meg Casper, a spokeswoman for the state Education Department. The East Baton Rouge Parish district, for example, has taken in more than 2,000 new students since Katrina hit.

But other parents have pulled back, some because they eventually hope to send their children back to their local schools. Others simply got fed with seeing their children in new, unfamiliar and crowded classrooms.

"At her school in East Baton Rouge, there were four drug busts one day, and the next someone was selling pills," said Michelle Pellegal, gesturing at her 16-year-old daughter, April Kent. "She said, 'I can't go to that school any more."'
In the best of times Louisiana's notoriously under-funded public school system consistently ranks near the bottom in performance on standardized tests, with many middle class families choosing to leave the system altogether and send their children to private schools.
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