Home Schoolers Face Barriers in Oklahoma

This article appeared in the Dallas Morning News, December 13, 1999.

"Thankfully," noted the lead editorial of the Daily Oklahoman, "theyoung people injured seem on the road to physical recovery."

That was the good news after stunned Sooner State residents learned aweek ago that an Oklahoma middle school student had shot several classmateswith 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 andlacrosse on the local public school teams while being home schooled. Thisyear, my family and I moved from Amherst, Mass., to Edmond, Okla. We quickly discovered that home schoolers in this part of the heartland are deniedaccess to public school athletic teams.

Never mind that my son is bright and athletic. Never mind that myproperty taxes subsidize public education. All that matters to the OklahomaSecondary School Activities Association is that he isn't legally enrolled in agovernment school.

To pursue his dream of being a football jock, Dan had no choice but toregister for public school. Since the football team he played on endedwith a 12-1 record, he is savoring the experience. But after a semester ofschool, he is ready to quit. He often complains about an English teacher whomispronounces vocabulary words. As a product of multicultural Amherst, Dan finds thestudent body, which considers Abercrombie and Fitch clothes de rigueur,Stepford-like.

Wid, my 14-year-old son, faced a different dilemma. He wanted tocontinue being home schooled but also desired to play football. My husband askedthe coach at a nearby Christian school if Wid could join its team. The coachgraciously made the necessary inquiries but was told "no." Another surprise. InMassachusetts, my husband and I ran a small, private high school, and weoften allowed home scholars to participate in classes or activities with theregular students.

But this tale of two home schooling states does have a positive side.

The home schooling community of central Oklahoma doesn't lack academicenrichment opportunities. Wid attends, with other home schoolers, ascience lab at the University of Central Oklahoma taught by a biology professor. Twicea week, he also participates in a home schooling cooperative where he takesalgebra, Spanish and speech classes.

And when it comes to the issue of parental rights, Oklahoma's homeeducation laws are among the best in the United States.

There is no requirement for parents to contact school officials toteach their children at home if they never have enrolled them in a private orpublic school. In fact, Oklahoma State Superintendent Sandy Garrett says she hasno idea how many home schoolers there are because the state doesn't track the population.

My former home of Massachusetts heavily regulates home schoolers. Localsuperintendents must approve a home schooling family's curriculum and canrequire periodic reports about a student's progress. Families also may beasked to submit standardized test score results.

Families that rightfully panic upon learning of yet another schoolshooting should proceed with caution if they decide to remove their children fromschool to home school them. Parents need to familiarize themselves with the lawsof their state. They also need to determine what, if any, support systemsexist for home schoolers and what sacrifices the choice will demand.

But overcoming the hurdles may cause your child to thrive academicallyand it isn't an exaggeration anymore save his life. For when it comes toschool, there is no safer place than a home school.

Isabel Lyman

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