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Families weigh educational options after the transgender directive for public schools

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration’s transgender directive for public schools does not seem so far to have provoked a widespread rush of families toward other education options, but it could be a factor if such a movement develops in the future, say leaders in the Christian school and homeschooling movements.

The May 13 guidance issued by the Departments of Education and Justice directed public schools and universities to permit transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms of their gender identity instead of their biological sex.

The transgender directive “leaves millions of parents and families with difficult issues to think through,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

The church has a responsibility to guide parents on this issue, Moore said.

“There are many reasons for schools and communities to acknowledge the differences between boys and girls, reasons that have nothing to do with discrimination,” said Moore in written comments. “Our churches should be helping families navigate these issues, with the ultimate goal being faithfulness to the Gospel.”

The Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) has seen only “a slight increase in interest from parents,” said Thomas Cathey, director for legal legislative issues of the world’s largest Protestant education association, which has 25,000 member schools globally and 2,500 in the United States.

“I am not sure we will see any increase from this,” Cathey said in a written statement. “[W]hen school districts implement the transgender policies,” there could be more interest, he said.

Homeschooling appears to be experiencing a similar response at the national level, said one of the movement’s leaders.

“From social media, we hear an increase in people thinking about alternatives to public schools,” said Michael Farris, cofounder and chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association. “I think there is a bit of a wait and see attitude to see if their local districts will actually implement the directive. When the directives are in full swing, the potential is likely to become a reality of people starting to leave public schools in increasing numbers.”

In contrast, some local and state education leaders have seen a marked upswing in contacts from families.

David Baker, pastor of First Baptist Church of Belton, Mo., and superintendent of Heartland Christian Schools, said that he has received “a lot of phone calls” from parents of high school and junior high students, “but whether that’s going to translate into enrollment I don’t know.”

Suzanne Nunn, a homeschooling leader in Florida, said, “We have certainly seen an increase in interest to home school [since the recent directive]. We have seen this interest not only in our local support group but also across the state.”

The directive spurred opposition from some governors, who pledged to fight it despite the implication states could lose federal aid if they do not comply.

While some public officials work to prevent implementation of the guidance, parents who might desire a Christian or other private school education for their children face a common problem — money.

“The key factor is always finances for most families,” said Baker. “For a lot of families, private school is just unrealistic for them just because of finances, although we’re seeing some people really becoming sacrificial in order to put their children in private school.”

The departure of Christian families from the public schools appears likely, both homeschool and Christian school leaders said.

The transgender directive is “putting it on the front burner for a lot of families,” but Common Core — a controversial education reform plan — also is a “huge issue,” Baker said. “We’re anticipating that there’s going to be a long-term movement of Christian families out of the public schools.”

Farris said that the philosophical drift of the public schools into advocacy for moral deconstruction will continue to alienate more traditionally minded people. “This is not good for America or for public education, ” he said.

“We want people to choose homeschooling because it is a great choice for a family — not because they feel like they must become refugees from public schools.” Farris said. “But, whatever their reason for starting, the homeschooling movement is ready and willing to help families provide a solid academic education in a morally sound setting for their own children.”

The latest figures from the National Center for Education Statistics showed in 2012 there were 1.77 million homeschooled, American children, which was an increase of more than 60 percent in a decade.

Churches can make the difference in helping parents provide their children with an education in a Christian school, Baker said.

“I think the growth of Christian schools is not limited by the number of people wanting to come there,” said Baker. “I think the growth of it is limited by churches that are willing to actively get involved in Christian education through the Christian school. And I think that until churches are a lot more intentional about that, it’s going to be hard for many parents to make that move.”

The church should help parents seeking options for their children’s education, said Christian worldview spokesman John Stonestreet.

“Many families feel they have no choice but to send their kids to public schools, but there are more options than ever when it comes to educational alternatives,” said Stonestreet, fellow of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, in a recent letter to supporters of the Manhattan Declaration, a statement on life, marriage and religious liberty. “And churches need to find ways to help those families currently unable to take advantage of the alternatives.”

— by Tom Strode | BP

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