Treating Home Schoolers as "Separate but Unequal"
by Isabel Lyman
13 December 1999
"Thankfully," noted the lead editorial of The Oklahoman, "the young
people injured seem on the road to physical recovery."
That was the good news after stunned Sooner State residents learned a week
ago that an Oklahoma middle school student had shot several classmates with a
But the horrific incident reminded me of my commitment to the educational
phenomenon known as "home schooling." It also rekindled my disdain for a
Oklahoma policy that treats home schoolers as "separate and unequal," a
mentality that has locked my eldest son, a longtime home schooler, into
attending public school. Here is why.
Dan loves sports. In Massachusetts, he played football, ice hockey and
lacrosse on the local public school teams while being home schooled. This
year, my family and I moved from Amherst, Mass., to Edmond, Okla. We quickly
discovered that home schoolers in this part of the heartland are denied
access to public school athletic teams.
Never mind that my son is bright and athletic. Never mind that my property
taxes subsidize public education. All that matters to the Oklahoma Secondary
School Activities Association is that he isn't legally enrolled in a
To pursue his dream of being a football jock, Dan had no choice but to
register for public school. Since the football team he played on ended with a
12-1 record, he is savoring the experience. But after a semester of school,
he is ready to quit. He often complains about an English teacher who
mispronounces vocabulary words. As a product of multicultural Amherst, Dan
finds the student body, which considers Abercrombie and Fitch clothes de
Wid, my 14-year-old son, faced a different dilemma. He wanted to continue
being home schooled but also desired to play football. My husband asked the
coach at a nearby Christian school if Wid could join its team. The coach
graciously made the necessary inquiries but was told "no." Another surprise.
In Massachusetts, my husband and I ran a small, private high school, and we
often allowed home scholars to participate in classes or activities with the
But this tale of two home schooling states does have a positive side.
The home schooling community of central Oklahoma doesn't lack academic
enrichment opportunities. Wid attends, with other home schoolers, a science
lab at the University of Central Oklahoma taught by a biology professor.
Twice a week, he also participates in a home schooling cooperative where he
takes algebra, Spanish and speech classes.
And when it comes to the issue of parental rights, Oklahoma's home education
laws are among the best in the United States.
There is no requirement for parents to contact school officials to teach
their children at home if they never have enrolled them in a private or
public school. In fact, Oklahoma State Superintendent Sandy Garrett says she
has no idea how many home schoolers there are because the state doesn't track
My former home of Massachusetts heavily regulates home schoolers. Local
superintendents must approve a home schooling family's curriculum and can
require periodic reports about a student's progress. Families also may be
asked to submit standardized test score results.
Families that rightfully panic upon learning of yet another school shooting
should proceed with caution if they decide to remove their children from
school to home school them. Parents need to familiarize themselves with the
laws of their state. They also need to determine what, if any, support
systems exist for home schoolers and what sacrifices the choice will demand.
But overcoming the hurdles may cause your child to thrive academically and it
isn't an exaggeration anymore save his life. For when it comes to school,
there is no safer place than a home school.
This column appeared in The Dallas Morning News on December 13, 1999.
Isabel Lyman lives in Edmond, Oklahoma. A former editorial columnist for the Daily Hampshire Gazette of Northampton, Massachusetts, her views have appeared in various national publications, including the Wall Street Journal and Investors Business Daily. She may be contacted via e-mail by clicking here.
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