Cumberland Times-News

April 16, 2008

Mineral school board puts off home-schooling policy decision

Liz Beavers

KEYSER - After a lengthy and detailed discussion on the proposed policy on home-schooling students, the Mineral County Board of Education decided Tuesday to postpone any action until they can answer a series of questions originally posed by the Keyser High School Guidance Department.

The board members have been considering a proposed policy since their April 1 meeting when a large number of home school supporters appeared in protest of the removal of three students from classes they were taking at county schools.

At issue was the question of what constitutes a home-schooled student as opposed to a full-time public school student, and whether Superintendent of Schools Skip Hackworth had the authority to have the students removed from all but two of their classes in February.

When he took the action, Hackworth said home-schooled students could take no more than 50 percent of their classes in school without being classified as a full-time public school student.

The home school supporters questioned, however, how he had the authority to make that decision without an official policy in place.

Tuesday, Attendance Director and Home School Coordinator Linda Marsh said Hackworth's action came about as a result of several questions that had been asked by the guidance counselors at Keyser High School.

Noting that the guidance counselors had commented that they were noticing more and more home-schooled students taking an increasing number of classes, Marsh said the counselors requested clarification as to what exactly constitutes a full-time student.

"We are going into an area with home-school kids now where we've never gone before," she said, noting that even as recent as three or four years ago home-schooled students would request permission to enroll in one or two classes at the most.

The students in question were enrolled in four classes.

Telling the board that she had consulted Dr. Karen Larry with the State Board of Education, Marsh said the state official had told her that "you can't be home-schooled and a full-time student at the same time."

"The guidance office said they had several students enrolled full time, but not following the required programs of study for a full time student," Marsh said.

Marsh presented the board with a list of questions that the KHS guidance counselors had presented to her.

The questions ranged from whether or not a home-schooled student enrolled in public school is to be required to take the same standardized tests that public students take, to how a home-schooled student can be held accountable for low math scores when he or she does not take math at the high school.

The counselors also questioned how they would determine grade level placement when a home-schooled student enrolls in school.

"Basically, in the past, we've been taking the position of the parent as to what grade they were in," KHS principal Charles Wimer said.

He added, however, that an older student with few credits could wind up in a ninth-grade class, while a younger student with a lot of credits could conceivably be placed as a senior.

The counselors also questioned how the programs of study are being monitored for home-school students, and whether home-school students wishing to enroll in school could conceivably be enrolled ahead of a full-time student, bumping him or her out of a class they need for their program of study.

Wimer questioned the fairness of home-schooled students picking their own courses and not being required to follow programs of study or requirements of graduation like the full-time students.

He also noted that the county's computer system "calculates all students the same and home-schooled students must therefore be manually removed form our reports when determining class rankings, valedictorian, salutatorian, Goldsworthy Scholars, honor societies and scholarships, to name a few."

And while home-schooled students do not receive high school diplomas because they are not following the required program of study, Wimer cited at least one case in which a home-schooled student was not filtered out of the system and he received a diploma.

"I feel either written procedure or written policy would be advantageous in helping us answer these questions," he said.

Board Vice President Terry LaRue said he felt the board members have an obligation to answer the questions posed by Keyser High School.

"I don't know how long it's going to take, but we need to find the answers," he said, noting that whatever policy they might adopt would not go into effect until the 2008-2009 school year anyway.

President Mary Aronhalt directed Hackworth to seek out the answers, and have them back before the board by no later than their June 24 meeting.

"We need more information before we make any decision," she said.

Contact Liz Beavers at lbeavers@times-news.com.