Opinion, WVPA Sharing

Opinion: Asking for truth, dialogue amid unfair homeschool scrutiny

By Delegate Kathie Hess Crouse, R-Putnam

Recent reports have brought homeschooling in West Virginia under a critical spotlight. State School Superintendent Michele Blatt has claimed only 37% of homeschoolers submit the required assessment results for grades 3, 5, 8 and 11. However, this accusation raises more questions than it answers and puts the homeschooling community in a defensive position based on potentially flawed data.

Homeschoolers were not given a chance to discuss these statistics with Superintendent Blatt before they were presented to the public. This public revelation has influenced opinions, not only among the public but also within the homeschooling community. It has forced homeschoolers to defend themselves against statistics that even Blatt admits may be inaccurate. This brings me to several concerns about the West Virginia Department of Education’s (WVDE) findings.

First, the data spans the 2020-2021 through 2023-2024 school years. Including the chaotic years of 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 is misleading. During this time, public schools were effectively shut down by Gov. Jim Justice, leading thousands of parents to turn to homeschooling temporarily. Our homeschooling groups grew more than tenfold, and many parents were either unaware of homeschool laws or chose to ignore them. Most of these students have since returned to public schools. Public schools themselves struggled to track and oversee their students during this period. Including these years in the study skews the data, as confusion was widespread for all West Virginia parents.

Second, including the 2023-2024 school year in the statistics is fundamentally flawed. The deadline for assessment results submission (June 30) has not yet even. Thus, the WVDE can only reasonably draw data from the 2022-2023 school year. That year also saw significant disruptions, especially in Kanawha County — the county with the largest homeschool population in the state — where all the records were misplaced, and parents were asked to resubmit them. Were these missing records reported as non-compliance? It’s a known issue that county school boards frequently lose assessment results and Blatt acknowledged in a recent email that managing these exemptions is extremely taxing for attendance directors. Reports from across the state describe lost paperwork, uncollected mail, false information given to homeschoolers and instances of harassment and bullying to force children back into public schools. How can we trust statistics from a system that loses funding with each child removed?

Superintendent Blatt asserts that the 37% submission rate is unacceptable, despite schools not being required to follow up on unsubmitted assessments. This is a choice, not a mandate. Public school systems have opted not to utilize the law already in place and follow up, even though state homeschool organizations have long noted that county superintendents can choose to do so.

Additionally, WVDE data showing 70% of students who left public schools were chronically absent begs the question: why did they leave? Reports indicate rising bullying, increased suicides and dangerous conditions in public schools. Berkeley County, for instance, recently faced scrutiny over significant safety issues, prompting many parents to withdraw their children for their well-being.

Blatt also mentioned the 6,000 children in the foster care system, suggesting a need to reevaluate homeschool laws. However, since the state typically denies homeschooling for foster children, this point seems irrelevant and aimed at garnering public sympathy. Furthermore, from a recent Wood County Board of Education meeting, board member Rick Olcott was quoted as saying, “The first thing we need to do is attack homeschoolers and get them back in the school system.” How can a system with such animosity toward homeschoolers be trusted with their statistics? This overt hostility only deepens the distrust between the homeschool community and the public education system.

There has been a public outcry from those who believe the homeschool community should face further regulation (despite West Virginia being one of the more heavily regulated states) to prevent child abuse. But where is the outcry for public school students who have been abused in the classroom or sexually groomed by school personnel outside the classroom? Why has there not been a push for further regulation of school personnel?

The homeschool community has not been included in these discussions. Consequently, incomplete data presented out of context paints an inaccurate picture, shocking the public and legislators with claims of a lack of accountability. It is vital to bring all the facts to light and engage with legislators to counter misinformation with logical and factual arguments.

Delegate Kathie Hess Crouse, R-Putnam, represents House District 19, which is made up entirely of Putnam County. She has served in the House since December 2021 and is the Vice Chairman of the House Workforce Development Committee.

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