How did a law eliminating personal beliefs as an exemption to having children vaccinated impact homeschooling trends?

Parents who do not want their children vaccinated often declare they will homeschool their children if they are unable to get nonmedical (personal belief) exemptions. Investigators looked into whether California’s law in 2015 impacted homeschooling rates in the state.

The rise in antivax sentiment over the past decade has led to some states making the move to reduce or eliminate the availability of nonmedical exemptions for the childhood vaccinations required for school entry. As a response to such legislation, many parents who are against certain vaccinations have indicated that they would consider turning to homeschooling their children. A report examines how homeschool trends in California changed following such an elimination.1

The investigators determined the homeschooling rates as the number of students in kindergarten to 8th grade who had enrolled in 1 of 3 homeschool mechanisms available in California: independent study program, private school affidavit, and private school satellite program and divided that by all kindergarten through 8th grade students for the same academic year. Data on homeschooling came from the California Department of Education. Senate Bill 277 was the bill that eliminated nonmedical examinations in the state and was passed in 2015. The period examined was October 2012 to October 2019.

They found that the homeschool enrollment for students in kindergarten to 8th grade did increase from 35,122 students in the 2012-2013 academic year to 86,574 students during the 2019-2020 school year, but the investigators concluded that the passage of senate bill 277 was not tied to an increase in the percentage of students who were now enrolled in homeschool. An increase in homeschool was greater in the lower grade levels with kindergarten going from 2068 students in the 2012-2013 to 10,553 in the 2019-2020 school year; meanwhile the increase in 8th graders being homeschooled went from 5146 in 2012-2013 to 10,485 in the 2019-2020 school years. Independent study programs were the most common avenue to homeschooling, accounting for 45.3% (20,149) of students in the 2015-2016 school year. For the same year, private school affidavits were used for 43.5% (19,333) of such students and private school satellite programs were utilized for 11.1% (4935) of students.

Investigators concluded that eliminating nonmedical exemptions for compulsory vaccinations had no link to a mass removal of students from classroom-based instruction in schools. They did note that this may potentially hinge on the fact that parents were able to find a doctor who would provide a medical exemption or lived in a school district with poor implementation of the law. They urged lawmakers in other states that are looking to eliminate such exemptions to look at the unintended consequences of the California law.

Reference

  1. Patel K, McFadden S, Mohanty S, et al. Evaluation of trends in homeschooling rates after elimination of nonmedical exemptions to childhood immunizations in California, 2012-2020. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(2):e2146467. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.46467