BOE President’s Choice to Homeschool Discussed
MIDDLEBOURNE – Tyler Board of Education President Bonnie Henthorn’s recent decision to homeschool her children dominated discussion during Tuesday’s BOE meeting.
State Senate candidate Ginger Nalley and Judi Hamrick, a longtime Tyler schools teacher, offered opposing views to a standing room only crowd about whether Henthorn made the right choice.
Nalley of Sistersville is a candidate in the Republican primary for 2nd District Senate, which represents Tyler, Wetzel, Calhoun, Doddridge, Gilmer, Marion, Marshall, Monongalia and Ritchie counties.
“I’ve been very concerned about this since I’ve been reading the newspaper (Tyler Star News),” she said. “The first thing I want to do is make everybody aware that Bonnie and her husband Jamie were in agreement to take their children out of school and home school them. It wasn’t just Bonnie because they do things together, but the blame has been totally placed on Bonnie and it shouldn’t be blame. The decision was made by Jamie and Bonnie. I want to make everyone aware of that.”
Hamrick, a teacher at A.I. Boreman and Sistersville elementary schools, was an honoree for teacher of the year in Tyler County for her work at Boreman Elementary. Hamrick said a parent’s decision to homeschool isn’t the issue unless that person happens to serve on the BOE.
Nearly a dozen teachers attended the BOE meeting.
“I personally do not object to any parents’ homeschooling their children,” said Hamrick, who has been teaching in Tyler County for about 20 years. “I do object to it when these parents are serving as president and as board members on the board of education. I do not feel it is in the best interest of all of our students for you to continue as our board President.”
During the Jan. 19 BOE meeting, Nalley offered her comments first followed by Hamrick’s speech on the matter that has captured the attention of many major media outlets across the state.
Nalley defended Henthorn’s choice to take her two children out of Tyler County schools so as to homeschool them.
“Bonnie made it really totally clear during the questioning at the last board meeting that her family’s decision had nothing to do with the quality of Tyler County Education” she said. “In fact, she said that for the kids anyplace, this is the best place for them to be. She tells people that all over the state because she goes all over the state working against Common Core, and with a group of people who have been in front of the Legislature about all of this. She has worked diligently. I don’t think anyone here would even comprehend how many hours that she has spent doing these things. And she wasn’t asked by anybody in the county to do it. She’s done it totally on her own at her own expense, going with them to help with it. I don’t think if it had not been for this group of people who have worked so diligently on the Common Core stuff, that there wouldn’t be any question in the Legislature or the state Board of Education wouldn’t have even brought it up. They would have continued with things as they were.”
Nalley continued voicing her support for Henthorn.
“I really think that we’ve got a lot to say to thank Bonnie for doing,” she said. “She recognizes the fact that in the school system, some people may feel slighted. But it is her and Jamie’s decision. And it really is just as it would be your decision with your children as it would be mine or Linda (Hoover) when we had children. Our children are grown and we have grandchildren now but you know it’s something that we’ve really got to consider, it’s her choice. It’s her and Jamie’s choice. We shouldn’t second guess them, it’s not that she doesn’t love Tyler County or she doesn’t love the Tyler County school system. She would work her rear end off if she didn’t and she worked very hard at this.”
Nalley said as far as she is aware, there is no requirement that a county’s BOE members send their children to public schools in districts they represent.
“I don’t know of any!” she said. “I know there is a gentleman in Lewis County who is on the Board and has been for years and he is the principal of a private Catholic school. And I have been told by different other board members in other counties that there are a lot of other situations like that where board members children attend other schools in counties where they are not a member of the board.”
Nalley defended Henthorn’s sense of faith and her values aimed at improving education.
“Her concern for every child in this county is very deep,” she said. “For one, she is a very good Christian woman and you can’t be a Christian and not be concerned for every child in this county and state. I mean we really need to improve things. Can anyone say that were proud when they make the national announcement that we are 48th or 49th in the state in the nation in education? I mean we got a great system right here. We really do. We’ve got awesome teachers We have wonderful teachers and staff, not everybody has that. But still, in all our states (we are) 48th or 49th. That’s nothing to be proud of. We’ve got a lot of work to do, we’ve got a lot of work to do and Bonnie has been stellar about traveling because I’ve gone to a lot of those meetings I know she’s there because I was there too.”
Elections offer people the opportunity to make their voices heard. Henthorn’s has about two years remaining in her BOE term.
“I guess if the public is unhappy with the way she serves the county, then they can remove her at the time that she signs up for re-election,” Nalley said. “At the ballot box – that’s the time when we need to un-elect anyone who they feel is not doing a good job. I just felt that I had to come tonight and kind of take up for her. After having read the paper, I was really upset about that because that isn’t the way our county does things. I have just been very upset about it. I thank you for your time, but what Bonnie and a lot of the others have done is what has encouraged me to run for the state senate. I feel that they have done so much for our state and for our county, I really, really do. I wish any of you would come and look into what they have done. It’s very enlightening.”
Hamrick questioned Henthorn’s intentions.
“I also read the local paper (Tyler Star News) last week and I’m a little bit confused about your intentions to home school your children,” she said. “From what I gathered in the paper, one reason was that there is not a Christian based education. The other reason is the state leaders are not putting our students first. The U.S. supreme court has heard cases as far back as 1943 about proposing First Amendment rights and upholding what they call the Establishment Clause, which is to not promote any religious practice within our schools.”
Hamrick cited a Supreme Court case originating from Louisiana that upholds separation of church and state in the classroom with regard to the teaching of creation and evolution.
“You brought up the lesson of creationism, but the Supreme Court has already ruled that the schools cannot teach creationism even if it is to balance out the teaching of evolution,” she said. “The Supreme Court vote was seven to two. This has been (case) law since 1987. Our teachers know that. As board members ,you should know what the law of the land is and you should be able to uphold these laws. “
One of Tyler County’s best and brightest students – TCHS senior Julian Work – was mentioned as an example of what is possible when balancing education with faith.
“Even though creation is not taught in our science classes, it doesn’t mean that our schools do not push and fight,” Hamrick said. “When I read that (Tyler Star News) article underneath the story on the board office about Julian Work, all you had to do was read that article and see how our teachers are examples to our students on how to live Christian lives. I was a little bit hurt and a little bit insulted that you would say that you want a more Christian education for you children. Our teachers in our schools are constantly serving as positive role models for our students.”
Hamrick took exception to Henthorn’s choice by noting how the county’s educators serve as role models.
“Whether you know it or not, they donate money for local charities. They deliver bags of food to students on Fridays. They give clothes and help provide them to families in need,. They collect items weekly to send overseas to our men in the military, and the list goes on and on and on,” she said. “So saying that you would like to have a more Christian based education, I don’t know where you can find that, which would be any better than what we already have in our schools.”
Henthorn’s BOE service means she should not pursue an ideological agenda that put her at odds with the school system she represents, not putting the students first.
“As a board member you are really no longer private citizens,” Hamrick said. “Your job as a board member is to do what is best for all of our students. This should never be seen as a platform to fight against anyone, but your job is to make decisions in our students best interest.”
Hamrick said decisions come with consequences that affect everyone.
“We all know that the money to fund our schools comes from state funds and is primarily based on our enrollment,” she said. “So when you withdraw your students from our schools, funding for all of our students get cut. You are not putting all of our students first because of your actions. Mrs. Henthorn and Mr. Wells and Mr. Strode – your comments that you would do the same if it was possible; that you would withdraw your students. Your priorities are not to do what is best for all of our students.”