Charleston church shooter’s death sentence upheld

Charleston church shooter’s death sentence upheld

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld the conviction and sentence of a man on federal death row for the 2015 racist slayings of nine members of a Black South Carolina congregation.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond affirmed Dylann Roof’s conviction and sentence in the shootings at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

In 2017, Roof became the first person in the U.S. sentenced to death for a federal hate crime. Authorities have said Roof opened fire during the closing prayer of a Bible study at the church, raining down dozens of bullets on those assembled. He was 21 at the time.

In his appeal, Roof’s attorneys argued that he was wrongly allowed to represent himself during sentencing, a critical phase of his trial. Roof successfully prevented jurors from hearing evidence about his mental health, “under the delusion,” his attorneys argued, that “he would be rescued from prison by white-nationalists — but only, bizarrely, if he kept his mental-impairments out of the public record.”

Roof’s lawyers said his convictions and death sentence should be vacated or his case should be sent back to court for a “proper competency evaluation.”

The 4th Circuit found that the trial judge did not commit an error when he found Roof was competent to stand trial and issued a scathing rebuke of Roof’s crimes.

“Dylann Roof murdered African Americans at their church, during their Bible-study and worship. They had welcomed him. He slaughtered them. He did so with the express intent of terrorizing not just his immediate victims at the historically important Mother Emanuel Church, but as many similar people as would hear of the mass murder,” the panel wrote in is ruling.

“No cold record or careful parsing of statutes and precedents can capture the full horror of what Roof did. His crimes qualify him for the harshest penalty that a just society can impose,” the judges wrote.

One of Roof’s attorneys, Margaret Alice-Anne Farrand, a deputy federal public defender, declined to comment on the ruling.

All of the judges in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers South Carolina, recused themselves from hearing Roof’s appeal; one of their own, Judge Jay Richardson, prosecuted Roof’s case as an assistant U.S. Attorney. The panel that heard arguments in May and issued the ruling on Wednesday was comprised of judges from several other appellate circuits.

Following his federal trial, Roof was given nine consecutive life sentences after pleading guilty in 2017 to state murder charges, leaving him to await execution in a federal prison and sparing his victims and their families the burden of a second trial.

President Joe Biden as a candidate said he’d work to end federal executions. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in March that he continues to have “grave concerns” about it.

Biden has connections to the case. As vice president, Biden attended the funeral for one of those slain, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, who also pastored the congregation. During his 2020 presidential campaign, Biden frequently referenced the shooting, saying that a visit to Mother Emanuel helped him heal in the aftermath of the death of his son, Beau.

Roof’s attorneys could ask the full 4th Circuit to reconsider the panel’s ruling. If unsuccessful in his direct appeal, Roof could file what’s known as a 2255 appeal, or a request that the trial court review the constitutionality of his conviction and sentence. He could also petition the U.S. Supreme Court or seek a presidential pardon

___

Kinnard reported from Houston.

 

Biden authorizes new refugee funds, fends off criticism from aid groups

Biden authorizes new refugee funds, fends off criticism from aid groups

Hundreds of people gather near the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2021. The U.S. military and officials focus was on Kabul’s airport, where thousands of Afghans trapped by the sudden Taliban takeover rushed the tarmac and clung to U.S. military planes deployed to fly out staffers of the U.S. Embassy, which shut down Sunday, and others. (AP Photo)

by Jack Jenkins & Emily McFarlan Miller (RNS)

WASHINGTON (RNS) — President Joe Biden has authorized an additional $500 million to aid refugees from Afghanistan, pushing through the funds as the White House fends off suggestions it failed a moral test to aid those fleeing the war-torn country.

Biden approved the funds in a memorandum Monday (Aug. 16) to meet “unexpected urgent refugee and migration needs,” drawing the money from the United States Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund.

The memo, addressed to the U.S. secretary of state, stressed the funds were for “the purpose of meeting … (the) needs of refugees, victims of conflict, and other persons at risk as a result of the situation in Afghanistan.”

The president of Jewish refugee resettlement group HIAS (founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), Mark Hetfield, said the move was expected and the fund exists “precisely for this type of situation” — referring to the effort to evacuate Afghans desperate to leave the country after it fell to the Taliban over the past week.

The White House did not immediately respond to questions about how the new funds will be used.

At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that seven C-17 aircraft left Afghanistan over the past 24 hours, carrying 700 to 800 passengers, most of them a “mix” of people from other countries and Afghans seeking a Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV, with the U.S.

Psaki also reiterated the claim that “a good chunk” of SIV applicants “did not take advantage of those visas and depart” before the Taliban took control of Kabul, as the president asserted in his Monday address on Afghanistan — although she did not specify how many.

On Monday, in response to Biden’s address, leaders of several faith-based refugee groups disputed this account, saying they spent months urging the White House to expedite the evacuation of Afghans who aided the U.S. government during its 20-year presence in the country.

“We have been in touch with countless SIV recipients who have been desperate to leave Afghanistan for months and have not been able to due to insufficient financial resources and inadequate flight accessibility through international organizations,” Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, head of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said on Monday.

Similarly, Hetfield described Biden’s assertion as a case of “blaming the victim.”

Afghan government collapses, Taliban seize control: 5 essential reads

On Tuesday, faith-based groups continued their pressure on the White House to help U.S. allies and other vulnerable Afghans, including Christians and other religious minorities.

Among them, the Evangelical Immigration Roundtable sent a letter to Biden signed by leaders from World Relief, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and the National Latino Evangelical Coalition.

“As Christians, we believe that each person is made with intrinsic value in the image of God, and we cannot treat any person’s life as expendable. Our government has a particular obligation to those who are now facing threats upon their lives due to their service to the United States, and to go back on our commitment to them would be a moral failing with reverberating consequences for decades to come,” the letter read in part.

Emily McFarlan Miller reported from Chicago.

 

Historically Black college in South Carolina offers free tuition

Historically Black college in South Carolina offers free tuition

ROCK HILL, S.C. (AP) — A small historically Black college in South Carolina is offering all full-time students free tuition for the upcoming 2021-22 academic year.

Clinton College President Lester McCorn made the announcement last week for qualifying full-time students at the school in Rock Hill. The school had already made the commitment to slash fall tuition by 50% for its students, and offer every student a new tablet, news outlets reported.

But now the college is making tuition free as the school hopes to ensure their students get a college education despite financial hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each full-time student will also get a free Microsoft Surface laptop, McCorn said.

“We want to make sure you can perform with excellence without excuse,” he said.

The school’s website lists the cost of tuition for full-time students at $4,960 per semester, while a full year costs $9,920.

Students who are vaccinated can live on campus and will still be responsible for paying room and board. Those who attend full-time and live off campus can continue their courses online free of charge.

“It has been taxing for each and everyone of us,” McCorn said of the pandemic. “At Clinton College, we have done our best to keep the school moving forward and providing a quality education, even in a virtual environment.”

Clinton College was one of many schools established by the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church during Reconstruction years, to help eradicate illiteracy among freedmen. It has operated continuously for 120 years.

The school is among a wave of smaller schools around the state offering free tuition to students during the pandemic, The Herald reported. Spartanburg Community College is currently offering students a similar deal to anyone taking a minimum of six credits — or two courses — while Denmark Technical College recently offered to waive the costs for the first 500 applicants for the fall semester.

 

Hundreds arrested at Capitol while protesting for voting rights, minimum wage

Hundreds arrested at Capitol while protesting for voting rights, minimum wage

The Rev. William Barber, center, flanked by the Rev. Liz Theoharis, left, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, right, speaks during a Poor People’s Campaign demonstration in Washington, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

WASHINGTON (RNS) — As police escorted a demonstrator in a wheelchair away from the chanting throng descending on the Capitol Monday (Aug. 2), fellow protesters turned to watch the person go. The group paused for a moment, then altered their call.

They screamed in unison: “Thank you! We love you!”

The lone protester nodded, fist raised. The crowd erupted in applause.

It was a moment that played out again and again over the course of the afternoon. According to Capitol police, more than 200 faith-led demonstrators were arrested while praying, singing and protesting in the street, hoping to draw attention to voting rights and a slate of other issues participants argued impact the poor and low-wage workers.

The sprawling demonstration was organized by the Poor People’s Campaign, an advocacy group led by the Rev. William Barber II and the Rev. Liz Theoharis that tends to support left-leaning policies. Monday’s action on the Hill constituted one of the largest mass-arrest nonviolent protests at the Capitol in recent memory and attracted an array of prominent voices, including civil rights icon the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Luci Baines Johnson, the daughter of late President Lyndon B. Johnson.

At a rally near the Capitol immediately before the march, leaders laid out what they insisted were interconnected issues driving their protest, which centered on voting rights, immigration reform, a $15 an hour federal minimum wage and eliminating the Senate filibuster that has stymied passage of related federal legislation.

“Filibuster is a sin!” Barber declared. “Making essential workers work during a pandemic — and risk their lives to save this country — and then not give them a living wage is sin.”

The event also featured music. Singers led the crowd in belting: “Somebody’s hurting my brother, and it’s gone on far too long. And we won’t be silent anymore!” The singers changed the lyrics as the song progressed, inserting lines such as “Somebody’s stealing our wages!” and “Somebody’s blocking our voting rights!”

The song echoes the sweeping, evolving agenda articulated by a variety of faith leaders across the country in recent months, particularly those who operate within religious communities of color.

The Poor People’s Campaign took a leading role in propelling that agenda this summer in the wake of Republican-led efforts to pass state-level elections bills many activists decry as restrictive. Indeed, Monday’s march follows what organizers called a “season” of similar demonstrations organized by the PPC over the past two months in Washington, Arizona and most recently Texas, where activists mimicked the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The group walked 27 miles from Georgetown to Austin, Texas, in late July to oppose voting restrictions.

Texas pastor the Rev. Frederick Haynes III, who joined the Texas march and has vigorously opposed state elections bills, was among the speakers at the Washington rally.

Activists are arrested during a Poor People’s Campaign demonstration in Washington, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

“President Biden, Democrats and Republicans, the culture will put it like this: If you come for us and we didn’t send for you, you don’t want this smoke,” said the Progressive National Baptist, whose denominational convention is happening this week. “You don’t want this smoke because we are fighting for the soul of this nation.”

The activists’ efforts have hit roadblocks with some Democrats at the national level, particularly Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona. Both opposed efforts to pass minimum wage increases and eliminate the filibuster this year — in Manchin’s case, despite a meeting with Barber and low-wage workers.  The Poor People’s Campaign has since targeted bothlawmakers with protests.

Barber was quick to harangue members of both parties during the rally, accusing some Democrats of heaping praise on late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis but failing to support his vision for voting rights.

“Some Democrats told us: ‘If y’all organize, don’t connect wages to voting rights,'” Barber said. “I’m too old to play that.”

He added: “The same people suppressing the votes suppress your wages, won’t fix your utility grids, suppress your health care, cut public education, block living wages — you’ve got to make the connection.”

Barber also offered his own adaptation of the Scripture passage from Isaiah 10:1-3:

“Woe unto you hypocrites who pay attention to all of Robert’s Rules (of order), all the made up rules of the Senate and the House, but you filibuster justice. And filibuster mercy. And you filibuster faithfully.”

Barber was briefly joined at the rally by Sen. Raphael Warnock, himself a prominent Georgia pastor. However, Barber explained Warnock would not speak because the campaign generally does not let politicians address their protests. Warnock is a champion of the For the People Act, a federal voting rights legislation Barber and others praised but Manchin opposed.

The Rev. Rev. Liz Theoharis, center left, and the Rev. William Barber lead a Poor People’s Campaign demonstration march in Washington, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

Among the clergy milling about the crowd — which also included many red-shirted members of the labor union Unite Here! — were the Rev. Patrick Messer, a United Church of Christ pastor who just left a church in Nebraska, and the Rev. Deana Oliva, a Unitarian Universalist minister from Kentucky.

Asked what spurred them to be part of the protest, Oliva was aghast at the thought of not participating — “Where else would we be?” — and Messer pointed to Jesus.

“I’m here because in Jesus’ first sermon he said the spirit is upon me to bring good news to the poor, and to bring deliverance to the captive,” Messer said. “We’re here to bring a $15 minimum wage to all workers, restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and pass all the provisions of the For the People Act and end the filibuster.”

The daughter of President Lyndon B. Johnson — who signed the Voting Rights Act into law — also addressed the crowd at the event. Luci Baines Johnson noted she could not speak for her father, but insisted he would have wanted her to be with activists “in the fight for social justice and voting rights.” After voicing support for the For the People Act and the John Lewis Act, another voting rights bill, she invoked Scripture while calling for bipartisanship.

“In the 1960s, Democrats and Republicans stood up together for social justice,” she said. “It was the right thing then, and it’s the right thing now. Now more than ever before, we need to — in the words of Isaiah — come and reason together to get a more just America for everybody.”

The Rev. Jesse Jackson also addressed the crowd, bemoaning what he called a nation “in crisis” and voicing a willingness to go to jail for the cause.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, center, speaks during a Poor People’s Campaign demonstration in Washington, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

He led the group in a call-and-response chant: “I am! Somebody! I may be poor! But I am! Somebody! I may be unemployed! But I am! Somebody! I may not have health care! But I am! Somebody! Respect me! Protect me! Elect me! I am! God’s child!”

Others who delivered either speeches or prayers at the event included prominent Muslim American activist Linda Sarsour, National Council of Churches President Jim Winkler, Simple Way founder Shane Claiborne, activist and former chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe Wendsler Nosie and several low-wage workers or people impacted by poverty.

After the speeches, the activists massed into a column and marched toward the Capitol, with clergy walking alongside low-wage workers and those impacted by poverty. Tensions briefly flared with police when they insisted demonstrators stay on the sidewalk for one stretch of their march. Protesters initially refused, walking past police before a wave of new officers arrived and corralled the group off the street.

Demonstrators took to the street a short time later after processing past the Supreme Court toward the Hart Senate building. One column of protesters stayed on the sidewalk, but a separate group — including Barber, Theoharis, Jackson and what appeared to be Messer and Oliva — positioned themselves in the middle of the road, refusing to move. Some briefly requested entry to the Hart building at Barber’s urging, but police rebuffed them, and they returned to the street.

As demonstrators sang and chanted (“What do we want? Voting rights! When do we want them? Now!”), officers began arresting those in the road one by one, carefully leading them away. Cheers rose up as Theoharis, Barber and Jackson were arrested, and they were followed by hundreds more: clergy of multiple faiths, low-wage workers, young activists and elderly people in walkers or wheelchairs were all among those arrested.

When each one arrived at the area where other arrestees were waiting to be processed, shouts and applause rang out.

It remains to be seen how lawmakers will react to the growing protest movement. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio was spotted walking quickly past the protest. When demonstrators shouted for the end of the filibuster, he quickly replied, “I agree with you,” a reference to his public willingness to end the filibuster if Republicans continue to use it to block liberal legislation.

The mixture of religious and labor demonstrators appeared to be clear in their cause on Monday and dedicated to convincing Congress to support it. They sang many songs, but one favorite seemed to be aimed directly at lawmakers: It simply asked, over and over, “Which side are you on?”

 

Bob Moses, civil rights leader, led us to imagine the end of racism

Bob Moses, civil rights leader, led us to imagine the end of racism

(RNS) — The death of Bob Moses on Sunday (July 25) at age 86 should make anyone who dares meddle with Americans’ voting rights in this country pause. The life of the great educator and civil rights leader in Mississippi during the turbulent and violent 1960s reminds us that there may be no more noble cause and that it attracts powerful champions.

I met the 29-year-old Moses at the Morning Star Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, in February 1964, when I was a young rabbi serving Congregation B’Nai Jehudah in Kansas City, Missouri. Like millions of Americans, I had been deeply moved months before by the huge civil rights rally that drew hundreds of thousands of people to the Lincoln Memorial.

In February 1964, the Rabbinical Association of Greater Kansas City sent me to Hattiesburg as its official representative to participate in the interreligious Ministers’ Project, which included rabbis, Presbyterian pastors and Episcopal priests from all over the country. I spent a week in Mississippi supporting the town’s African Americans, who were cynically forced to take a detailed and lengthy test that only a constitutional scholar could pass, designed to systematically deprive them of their vote.

When the Hattiesburg voting rights drive began in January, only 12 out of 7,000 eligible Black voters were registered. By early April, the number had climbed to nearly 800.

The drive, based upon non-violent direct action, consisted of marching each morning for several hours with other clergy in front of the Forrest County Courthouse demanding an end to voter suppression. In the afternoons, we went from house to house, instructing Black residents on how to register despite the onerous restrictions that were placed on them. In the evenings, the rabbis and Christian clergy attended various Black churches where we heard stirring music, powerful sermons and again we offered assistance in voter registration.

On one of those nights, at Morning Star Baptist, Bob Moses got up to speak. A graduate of Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, he had earned a master’s degree in philosophy at Harvard University, but, stirred by the civil rights movement, he had left his safe teaching position at Horace Mann, an elite private school in New York City, and traveled to Mississippi in 1960.

Moses soon became a prominent figure as the field secretary in the newly established  voter registration group, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, popularly known as “Snick.”

By February of 1964, he had become a legend. He had been shot at as he rode in a car. He had been knifed in the head by a violent segregationist, and, because no white doctor would treat his wound, Moses had to be driven around until a Black physician was finally located and sewed nine stitches in his head.

Moses delivered a powerful, eloquent address that night at Morning Star. He had a professorial mien and communicated in a soft voice but spoke in powerful cadences about the fundamental American right to vote. Fifty-seven years later, the memory  of Moses’ magnificent oration has the power to stir me.

The next year, Moses organized the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer Project that attracted many young volunteers, including two young Jewish men from New York City: Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, who heeded Moses’ call to assist in registering Black voters.

That summer, Goodman and Schwerner were murdered in Neshoba County, Mississippi, by members of the Ku Klux Klan, along with James Chaney, a young Black civil rights worker. Their killers were only brought to justice many years later.

Moses believed that a quality education was another necessity if we were to achieve a just and equitable society. In the 1980s, Moses organized “The Algebra Project,” whose goal was to help young Black students acquire skill in mathematics, a subject Moses discovered was greatly lacking for many African-American students.

When I returned to Kansas City, I wrote an article that appeared in the “Jewish Frontier,” a national magazine, about my Mississippi experiences. I concluded the piece with two predictions: There would be violence in Mississippi during the summer of 1964, and “total integration” would come to the United States within 10 years.

I was tragically correct about the potential for violence and much too optimistic about the end of racism in the United States. In those days, listening to men like Moses, it was possible to believe it.

May his memory and legacy always be an inspiration and a challenge for all Americans.

(Rabbi A. James Rudin is the American Jewish Committee’s senior interreligious adviser and the author of “Pillar of Fire: A Biography of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise.” He can be reached atjamesrudin.com. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

 

Sparked by pandemic fallout, homeschooling surges across US

Sparked by pandemic fallout, homeschooling surges across US

Felicity Brown, 9, uses a workbook to practice math with her parents and siblings at home in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. After homeschooling during the pandemic, the Brown family has switched to homeschooling their kids permanently using a Catholic-based curriculum and won’t be sending them back to in-person schools in the fall. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Although the pandemic disrupted family life across the U.S. since taking hold in spring 2020, some parents are grateful for one consequence: They’re now opting to homeschool their children, even as schools plan to resume in-person classes.

The specific reasons vary widely. Some families who spoke with The Associated Press have children with special educational needs; others seek a faith-based curriculum or say their local schools are flawed. The common denominator: They tried homeschooling on what they thought was a temporary basis and found it beneficial to their children.

“That’s one of the silver linings of the pandemic — I don’t think we would have chosen to homeschool otherwise,” said Danielle King of Randolph, Vermont, whose 7-year-old daughter Zoë thrived with the flexible, one-on-one instruction. Her curriculum has included literature, anatomy, even archaeology, enlivened by outdoor excursions to search for fossils.

The surge has been confirmed by the U.S. Census Bureau, which reported in March that the rate of households homeschooling their children rose to 11% by September 2020, more than doubling from 5.4% just six months earlier.

Black households saw the largest jump; their homeschooling rate rose from 3.3% in the spring of 2020 to 16.1% in the fall.

The parents in one of those households, Arlena and Robert Brown of Austin, Texas, had three children in elementary school when the pandemic took hold. After experimenting with virtual learning, the couple opted to try homeschooling with a Catholic-oriented curriculum provided by Seton Home Study School, which serves about 16,000 students nationwide.

The Browns plan to continue homeschooling for the coming year, grateful that they can tailor the curriculum to fit their children’s distinctive needs. Jacoby, 11, has been diagnosed with narcolepsy and sometimes needs naps during the day; Riley, 10, has tested as academically gifted; Felicity, 9, has a learning disability.

“I didn’t want my kids to become a statistic and not meet their full potential,” said Robert Brown, a former teacher who now does consulting. “And we wanted them to have very solid understanding of their faith.”

Arlena Brown, who gave birth to a fourth child 10 months ago, worked as a preschool teacher before the pandemic. Homeschooling, she says, has been a rewarding adventure.

“In the beginning, the biggest challenge was to unschool ourselves and understand that homeschooling has so much freedom,” she said. “We can go as quickly or slowly as we need to.”

Felicity Brown, 9, draws as she takes a break from math practice at her home in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, July 13, 2021. After homeschooling during the pandemic, the Brown family have switched to homeschooling their kids permanently using a Catholic-based curriculum and won’t be sending them back to in-person schools this fall. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Race played a key role in the decision by another African American family to homeschool their 12-year-old son, Dorian.

Angela Valentine said Dorian was often the only Black student in his classes at a suburban Chicago public school, was sometimes treated unfairly by administrators, and was dismayed as other children stopped playing with him.

As the pandemic eased, the family decided to keep Dorian at home and teach him there, using a curriculum provided by National Black Home Educators that provides content for each academic subject pertaining to African American history and culture.

“I felt the burden of making the shift, making sure we’re making the right choices,” Valentine said. “But until we’re really comfortable with his learning environment, we’ll stay on this homeschool journey.”

Charmaine Williams, who lives in the St. Louis suburb of Baldwin, also is using the National Black Home Educators curriculum as she homeschools her 10-year-old son, Justin, and 6-year-old daughter, Janel.

Williams said she and her husband tried two previous stints of homeschooling for Justin after school officials complained about his behavior. Now — with the new curriculum and an accompanying support network — they feel more confident about choosing it as a long-term option.

“At school, children have to follow a certain pattern, and there’s bullying, belittling — compared to being home where they’re free to be themselves,” Williams said.

“There’s no turning back for us now,” she added. “The pandemic has been a blessing — an opportunity to take ownership of our children’s education.”

Lily Osgood, 7, selects a book to read from the family library of nearly 2,000 books she shares with her brother, Noah, Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Fairfax, Vt. The Osgood children will continue to be homeschool this upcoming school year. As the pandemic took hold across the United States in the spring of 2020, it brought disruption and anxiety to most families. Yet some parents are grateful for one consequence: they are now opting to homeschool their children even as schools plan to resume in-person classes. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Joyce Burges, co-founder and program director of National Black Home Educators, said the 21-year-old organization had about 5,000 members before the pandemic and now has more than 35,000.

Many of the new families experienced difficulties, including lack of internet access, that limited their children’s ability to benefit from virtual learning during the pandemic, Burges said.

“It got so they didn’t trust anything but their own homes, and their children being with them,” she said. “Now they’re seeing the future — seeing what their children can do.”

For some families, the switch to homeschooling was influenced by their children’s special needs. That’s the case for Jennifer Osgood of Fairfax, Vermont, whose 7-year-old daughter Lily has Down syndrome.

Having observed Lily’s progress with reading and arithmetic while at home during the pandemic, Osgood is convinced homeschooling is the best option for her going forward.

She has made the same decision for her 12-year-old son Noah, who didn’t like the remote classes offered by his public school in the spring of 2020, and did homeschooling throughout the 2020-21 school year. It went so well that they want to continue for at least a few more years.

“He told me he was learning so much more at home than he ever did in school,” Osgood recalled. “He said, ‘School is just so chaotic — we don’t get very much done in any particular class. Here, I sit down, you tell me what to do, and minutes later I’m done.'”

Heather Pray of Phoenix, Maryland, says homeschooling has been a major success for her 7-year-old son, Jackson, who has autism. The family made the switch because Jackson was struggling with the virtual learning that his school provided during the pandemic.

“My son did great (with homeschooling), even with just two hours of schoolwork a day,” Pray said. “I got him into piano lessons, taught him to read.”

Pray is also homeschooling her daughter, Hayley, who’s going into 7th grade and had been attending a Christian school.

“I had no idea how this was going to go — I just dove in headfirst,” said Pray. “I felt God was holding my hand.”

The Gonzalez family from Appomattox, Virginia — who are devout Catholics — opted to homeschool their three sons, ages 9, 13 and 15, after their Catholic school in Lynchburg closed in 2020 due to falling enrollment.

They’re using the Catholic-focused curriculum from Seton Home Study School, which Jennifer Gonzalez, the boys’ mom, described as rigorous but well-organized.

“My kids have just excelled,” she said. “We’re able to be home and be together.”