MIDDLEBOURNE - Tyler County Board of Education President Bonnie Henthorn has decided to withdraw her children from public schools. She seeks more of a Christian-based education and blames state policies that restrict local control. Henthorn said she does not plan to resign from the board and still supports teachers, students and staff.
BOE members had mixed feelings about Henthorn's decision.
Henthorn told the BOE at its Jan. 4 meeting that she wants to homeschool her children. BOE member Linda Hoover asked Henthorn about her choice.
Photo by Ed Parsons
Tyler County Schools Superintendent Robin Daquilante (left) listens as BOE President Bonnie Henthorn explain to the board why she is taking her children out of the county school system. Henthorn said she supports the schools’ administration and the teachers, but does not support state policies that restrict local control. She favors a more Christian based education, so she plans to homeschool her children. BOE members had mixed opinions on Henthorn’s decision.
"Is there a reason why you are pulling them out of the Tyler County School system?" Hoover asked.
Henthorn answered, "Not that I have to give an explanation to you, but I will. This doesn't have anything to do with Tyler County, it has to do with two reasons. One is that I want them to have a more Christian-based education."
Hoover broke in, "What kind of education?"
Henthorn replied, "A Christian-based education. Number two is I no longer feel that the state leadership has the best interest of the the students at heart - no reflection on Tyler County. I have nothing against the teachers, although I was questioned as to how I was going to teach them since I don't have a college degree. I feel that was inappropriate. I don't believe the state leadership has their best interest at heart."
Henthorn separated her decision from her status as BOE president. She does not plan to resign from the BOE.
Hoover asked if Henthorn has no faith in public schools for her children, how could she continue to serve as president. "Do you feel you can carry on with the board of education and do your job here?"
Henthorn said her decision has nothing to do with her status as BOE president.
"I don't believe that it should have anything to do with it," she said. "I was talking to the people at the state level not that I had to ask their permission, because I have a right to do it. And I don't believe the people elected me because I have two kids in the school system. I believe they elected me because I would speak out about what I thought was wrong and I have done that."
Henthorn has no plans to resign from the BOE.
"And no, I'm not planning on stepping down," she said. "I'm not planning on resigning from the board, and I'm not planning on resigning as president. And if anyone has any questions about that they can ask me."
Hoover continued her questioning. "So you feel like what you are doing is in the best interest of the students?"
Henthorn said this is the right decision for her kids. She then took aim at educational leadership in Charleston.
"I do. I feel it is in the best interest of my children," she said. "Everybody doesn't have the opportunity I have, and there is no requirement that I have to have a college degree to homeschool, and it's no secret that I have spoken out and stood up for what I believe in and what I thought was right, including local control. And I believe the actions of the state in the past six months have not been in the interest of the children."
Though Henthorn said she knows that the school system cares about her children, their lives are being shaped by educational policies and practices that she does not support.
"I know I care about our children," she said. "I know that everyone on this board does; everybody in this room cares about our students, including our teachers. I have spoken to our teachers in parent-teacher conferences and I know they care about them, but they're not going to have any say in the coming years. My kids are living through the system and we don't have time to fool around. It doesn't have anything to do with my board membership."
Hoover continued her questioning.
"You don't feel like it's a slap in the teachers' faces?" she asked.
Henthorn replied, "Well it might to some, but you know it's not about Tyler County. It's about my kids. I am their parent; they belong to me and I'm going to do what's best for them."
Henthorn continued to criticize education leadership including state Board of Education President Michael Green. She's taken her fight to the Legislature.
"You know I have fought with the Legislature, and I've stood up and said what I felt was right," she said. "I know some of you may not agree with what I think is right with my kids and it may be a mistake; I don't know. But what I do know is, I do know that teachers don't know that the way we are teaching the kids right now is the best way either. So what have I got to lose really. My kids will be attending homeschool and eventually private schools. There is just no other option for me."
BOE member Jimmy Wyatt, who attended the meeting by phone from Mrytle Beach, Fla., disagrees with Henthorn's decison, but he feels her choice is for the public to decide. Henthorn responded by saying, "If you could poll all those people who voted for me and ask them if they voted for me because I have kids in the school system, I don't think they would tell you that. I think they voted for me because I speak out about what I think, and I've done that and I'll continue to do that, and at some point, someone's gotta have to start standing up for the kids. I think this is the best for my kids."
Wyatt, now retired as TCHS principal, said it is highly unusual for something like this to happen.
"This is a questionable decision because it really could be considered as not showing faith in our system," he said after the meeting. "We have one of the strongest school systems in the state. This has been attested to by high test scores and college acceptance rates. We have some of the best teachers in West Virginia. It is against federal and state law to teach religion in public schools."
Hoover then asked BOE members Scott Strode and P.J. Wells for their thoughts on the matter.
"They're her students and she has the right," Wells said. "I'll tell you this much the thought has crossed my mind too, but I don't have the ability as Bonnie does because my wife and I both work. That's why we spend a lot of time talking to teachers. There's not a thing wrong with Tyler County Schools. I'll tell you that right now, but you know it's the Christian-based thing that bothers me. We're not allowed to worship Jesus Christ in the school."
Hoover countered, "We haven't been allowed for years and years and years, what like 30 years. It's been a long time since we've been allowed to do that and I don't agree with that."
Wells added, "You know as well as I do that they teach and give very little thought about Christianity."
Henthorn dismissed how state decisions about textbooks predetermine what books local school districts will adopt.
"There again, they choose the textbook and they say 'Oh, we have control of the textbook because we have a committee.' But you know we choose from a list that they provide," she said. "Until local boards like us start going to the Legislature and say something needs to be done, that parents have a right to say something. .... Something needs to change."
Henthorn said her two children, who attend middle school and high school, do not have much time left with their education to see if things will change while they remain in public schools. She said during the past six months, the decision about how to educate her children became clearer.
"The last six months has really made my decision and it was hard. It is hard," she said. "Right now it's hard for me to say I'm the president of the Board of Education and I took my kids out of Tyler County Schools. And I would talk to their teacher at the parent teacher conference, and I do believe they have the best interest of the children at heart, but they're limited as to what they can do because of what the state board is doing to us."
Hoover asked Strode if he too was going to pull his kids out of public schools.
"If I lived in a place where I could, and I had resources to send them to a Linsly or a private Christian or Catholic or whatever parochial school, more than likely I would. But I don't, so I won't," he said. "That doesn't have anything to do with what's going on here."
Strode said his choice has nothing to with prejudice against any other religion.
"If we had a Christian School here in the county and a Muslim school and I sent my kids to the Christian school, it wouldn't mean I hate the Muslims," he said. "It would just mean I sent them where I thought was best."
Strode said he supports public education, but educational choices are limited in the county. As to Henthorn's choice, he sees both sides of the matter. If people don't like Henthorn's position, he said, then they can vote their conscience when she is up for election in two years.
"I see the aspect of her being on the board and not having her kids in the public system, but you know a year from now she may change her mind," she said. "So there's an election in two years from now, and if the people feel like that's a strike against her, then they'll have their say."
Hoover said she too understands Henthorn's right to choose what is best for her children, but because she is BOE president, that choice also sends a message to the community.
"I understand she has a right to do what she's doing," she said. "I understand that, but I don't understand why being on the board you would do something like this. She represents the students in the county and their best interests, and I can't understand this."
Henthorn responded by saying she would still represent the students, and when it comes right down to it, she will still speak her mind.
"Who's to say that these rules that they're making at the state level are not going to apply to me someday? I mean it is what it is, and you know, what would teachers think of me if I kept complaining and complaining and did nothing?" she said. "There are going to be teachers who hate this and are going to be mad at me, but you know what? There were teachers who thought that and didn't vote for me too."