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Home-schooling numbers rise but reasons change over years

Sunday, January 28, 2007

By KATHRIN KLENSHTEYN - Bulletin Staff Writer

The number of students who are home-schooled in Henry County has increased from eight to 99 during the past 11 years.

Bob Vogler, director of student services for Henry County Schools, attributes much of the early increase to concerns about violence after the Columbine school shooting in 1999. Now, he said, those concerns have given way to ones about standardized tests, student adjustment and other issues.

When Vogler began his job as director in the 1995-1996 school year, eight students were home-schooled, he said.

That number "increased very slowly until Columbine," Vogler said. "After Columbine, it mushroomed in Henry County."�

The shooting at Colorado's Columbine High School in April 1999 left 12 students and one teacher dead and 24 others wounded. The teenage shooters also killed themselves in a case that became national news.

In 1998-1999, the school year in which Columbine occurred, 35 county students were home-schooled, Vogler said.

The next school year, home-school numbers increased to 60, and Vogler heard the reason - school violence - over and over again from parents.

"You heard "˜Columbine, Columbine, Columbine,'" he said.

The number of home-schooled students in the county continued to rise to 83 students in the 2001-2002 school year and 100 in the 2004-2005 school year.

This year, 99 students, or about 1.31 percent of the county's 7,540 students, are home-schooled.

In recent years, Vogler said he does not hear security as the main reason for home-schooling.

Now, he said, parents have many different reasons for educating their children at home, including parents' perceptions that children get negative influences in public schools.

Some parents take their children out of public school because the students have difficulty passing Standards of Learning (SOL) tests, Vogler added. Home-schoolers do not have to take SOLs.

Other parents take their children out because of adjustment problems. Many students are taken out of public school in the middle school years and then put back by their parents for high school, Vogler said.

And, he said, some parents simply want to keep their children at home longer.

"So it's really just a wide variety" of reasons, he said.

Martinsville has 16 home-schooled students this year, said Carol Merchant, director of pupil personnel services for city schools. Seven students were home-schooled in the 2005-2006 school year, she said, adding that she did not have numbers for earlier years.

Merchant said she does not know why parents choose to home school their children.

"I don't really know," she said. "That's not something we would ask."

But, she said, she knows three students were exempt from school attendance this year because of religious beliefs. They are not asked to elaborate on their religion, she said.

In Virginia, if a student is released from school on a religious exemption, "they don't have to enroll in anything," Vogler said, so a parent does not have to keep the school system informed of their child's progress.

But, he said, the Henry County School Board asks the family to file an affidavit for approval that expresses their religious beliefs.

Once a child is approved to be exempt from school, the exemption is good until the child turns 18.

With the exception of those claiming a religious exemption, parents who want to home-school their children must meet one of four requirements developed by the State Department of Education, said Vogler. In all cases, they must submit a description of the curriculum (lists of subjects and textbooks) they intend to follow for language arts and math, according to the state code.

Option one requires that a parent have a high school diploma and provide a description of the curriculum he or she plans to use. Previously, the parent needed a bachelor's degree but the General Assembly lowered the requirement effective July 1.

Under option two, a parent must have a current teacher certification, said Vogler.

Option three includes a parent enrolling his or her child in a correspondence home school that is recognized by the Department of Education.

According to Vogler, about 19 such schools exist throughout the country. The county school system provides a list of them and it is up to parents to contact the school.

"These are home schools that operate as schools and businesses," he said, meaning they charge for their services, which may include report cards and transcripts.

Usually, a home school will cost between $800 and $1,200 a year per student, he said. But some may charge as much as $4,000.

"Home schools are businesses," he said. "The more services you pay for, the more services you get."�

Parents may also choose option four, in which they present their planned curriculum that includes state Standards of Learning in language arts and math, he said.

Parents who choose options three or four do not have to have high school diplomas, Vogler said. It is possible, he added, for a high school dropout to become a home-school parent.

Whatever option parents choose, they must show their child's progress at the end of the year. That means either providing county schools with standardized test scores or showing a portfolio of work.

If parents choose to show test scores, the student cannot fall below the 23rd percentile in testing.

In general, rules for home-schooling "are pretty flexible," said Vogler.

At the end of high school, home-schooled students do not have to meet graduation requirements in Henry County, Vogler said.

"If they are enrolled in an organized home-school program, they are working toward the graduation requirements of that program," he said.

But if the student is following another of the four options, it "leads to no diploma at all."�

He remembered one woman who made her own diploma.

University and military acceptance of home-schooled students is on the rise, Vogler said.

When Vogler began his job in 1995, he said many colleges and universities would not accept a home-school diploma. The University of Virginia and Virginia Tech required an additional admissions test for home-schooled students, he said.

But those requirements have gone away, he said.

"Most colleges will accept a home-school diploma like a regular high school diploma," he said. "Home-school diplomas are more and more accepted by schools, colleges, universities, professional schools and the military, and that's certainly a change since 1995."�


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