Commentary

Home Schoolers Face Barriers in Oklahoma

By Isabel Lyman
This article appeared in the Dallas Morning News, December 13, 1999.
“Thankfully,” noted the lead editorial of the Daily 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 handgun.

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 government school.

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 rigueur, Stepford-like.

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 regular students.

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 the population.

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.

Isabel Lyman of Edmond, Okla., is writing a book on home schooling for the Cato Institute.