While many B.C. businesses were closing or reducing hours in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Debra Dumouchel could barely keep up with barrage of emails, phone calls and Facebook messages that were coming into her business, Homeschool Canada.
Dumouchel, whose company sells learning materials for homeschooling and provides information to parents, says things haven't slowed down at all over the last five months.
"When B.C.'s premier and other provinces announced their back-to-school plans, we just went crazy busy," she said. "We're a three-person office and we're running around like chickens with their heads cut off."
Interest in homeschooling and distributed learning programs soared when B.C. schools were closed during the pandemic. Many parents concerned about the virus don't want to send their children back to classrooms when they reopen Sept. 10.
Cheryl Tereposky, a mother of two from South Slocan, says she's considering homeschooling her children if she isn't satisfied later this week when the district releases its back-to-school plan.
"It's not the ideal situation for us," she said. "That would mean dedication to staying home with my kids when I need to work, but it is a thought."
Teresa Wiedrick, a mother of four who wrote a book and does a podcast on homeschooling, says she's been overwhelmed with questions from parents trying to figure out if learning at home will benefit their children.
"The numbers are about a thousand per cent increase on my Facebook page and about a 267 per cent increase on my blog," she said. "The interest in learning at home is obviously huge."
Homeschooling vs. distributed learning
The vast majority of B.C. children who learn at home do so via distributed learning, which means they learn from a teacher through online lessons, phone calls, emails or other methods.
Distributed learning is available through public and private schools in B.C., but Dumouchel says demand is so high that many students are on wait lists.
"Some of them have something like a thousand waitlisted applications but get on the wait lists because they'll hire," she said. "I recommend starting with the independents. Get your name on a few wait lists and just be patient."
The other option is to register a child for homeschooling, where the parent is in charge of the educational program and is not required to meet provincial standards.
"It's not utopia but it is a ton of freedom," Wiedrick said. "The key is to really listen to your child. Who is my child? What are they about?"
Dumouchel and Wiedrick have both received countless messages from parents who feel intimidated by the prospect of not having their children in a classroom this year.
"It's overwhelming to be thrown into homeschooling and not even know where to begin," Dumouchel said. "The first thing I tell them is to breath, relax and not to panic."
Another concern parents have is their children may lose their spot in programs such as French immersion if they are homeschooled.
Tereposky worries that her neighbours, who live outside the catchment area but attend her children's school under a grandfather clause, won't be allowed to return to Brent Kennedy Elementary if they're educated at home.
She says parents should have been given more time to make decisions about the upcoming school year.
"We really feel like it's kind of rushed," she told CBC's Daybreak South. "We should have known these plans. We know these aren't normal circumstances but they've had a long time to prepare."