West Virginia School District Muscles Homeschoolers

Published December 7, 2014

Homeschooling families in Ritchie County, West Virginia have been subjected to a barrage of phone calls from the local school district intended to convince them to reenroll their children in public schools. Some parents considered the calls harassment. Despite apologies from the school superintendent by phone, the calls continued.

Although none of the calls were characterized as threatening, the parents said the claims made by the representatives of the school district superintendent’s office ranged from questioning parents’ qualifications to effectively instruct their children to telling them their choice to homeschool their offspring would result in district teachers losing their jobs.

Homeschooling in the school district increased significantly in the past school year, from 15 families to 45 families, according to homeschooler Susie Pierce. She attributed the spike in homeschooling to parental concern over the district’s adoption of Common Core curriculum standards and a decision to merge a local elementary school with a high school. She said the total number of homeschooled children in Ritchie County currently stands at 75 students.

“We’re more irritated than intimidated, although at least one parent was invited to meet with the superintendent and another was told they might be in violation of the law,” said Pierce. “We don’t have the option of enrolling our kids in private school in our community, because there aren’t any,” she explained. “But we think our decision to school our children should be respected.”

Violation of Privacy Alleged

Superintendent Edward T. Toman announced he would spearhead a phone-call campaign at the Ritchie County School Board meeting held on Oct. 13. According to the meeting minutes, Director of Support Services and Attendance David Weekley reported the district “was down 6-12 students” from the previous year. He also stated there are 45 home schools in the county with 75 students being home-schooled.

The minutes state, “Mr. Toman shared the home-school procedures/policy with the Board. He said we will be making phone calls to reach out and see if we can get some students back.” Phone calls to Toman, Weekley, and Deborah Bever, director of Ritchie School District Special Education, Federal Programs, and School Improvement, were not returned.

According to Pierce and Michael Donnelly, an attorney for the Homeschool Legal Defense Association whose own children are homeschooled, Toman’s office inappropriately used confidential information. “Parents, by law, are required to supply contact information to the local school district,” Donnelly said. “To use their information that they’re forced to provide in the manner the school district did is completely a violation of these parents’ privacy.”

 “Every homeschool family I personally know in Ritchie County operates under the notice of intent option,” Pierce said.  “By law we are required to inform the superintendent that we intend to homeschool. That should be the end of the contact between parents and the school board office until the end of the year.”

Pierce continued, “At the end of the year, we are required to submit testing results or a portfolio review. These are the only two correspondences that we are required by law to make.”

‘Disregard for Rights’

Pierce and 23 parents and two students attended the Ritchie County School Board meeting on Oct. 27. “In the past we have had issues with the board discussing our homeschools in their meetings, publishing our names and addresses in the newspaper, which is a violation of our privacy, and also sending us letters ‘approving’ our homeschool,” Pierce told the board that evening from prepared remarks. “After the school board was contacted by our attorney in 2011 some of these things have been rectified, but this does show a pattern of past disregard for our rights.

“This year, however, some of our members have been contacted several times by school employees, school officials, or employees of the Board office,” she said. “These contacts have included such things as requests for meetings, questioning of the parent’s ability to homeschool, trying to convince them that teachers will lose their jobs because of funding issues,” she continued.

Pierce stated, “We are responsible for knowing and complying with the law, and we ask the same courtesy of this board.

Donnelly said West Virginia officials regularly show hostility toward homeschoolers.

“I see this kind of aggressive behavior increasing. It concerns me,” said Donnelly, adding he’s pleased the phone calls seem to have stopped.

Bruce Edward Walker ([email protected]) is a policy advisor for The Heartland Institute.