BOE President Blames State, Not Local Educators
MIDDLEBOURNE – Tyler County Board of Education President Bonnie Henthorn answered questions from the Tyler Star News about her decision to homeschool her two children.
Henthorn said she’s been approached by other parents with children enrolled in the school system. She’s advised them to decide what is best for their kids.
“What I tell people is – everyone needs to make their own decision,” Henthorn said moments before the Jan. 4 BOE meeting adjourned. “The kids are in the best place they can be right now in West Virginia, in Tyler County. This is the best. Statewide, we have pretty much the best system, the best teachers and the best staff. If their kids are going to be in public schools, they should keep them here in Tyler County. I wouldn’t recommend them to go to another county or anything like that, but everyone needs to make [his/her] own decision.”
Henthorn said she’s not leading a charge that other parents choose to homeschool their children instead of keeping them within the schools. She said she’s making this choice as a parent, not as a board member. Henthorn advises parents to do their own research in regards to choosing between a public school education and homeschooling.
“I’m not out there charging people to say that you should homeschool too,” she said. “That’s not what I’m doing. My decision was made for my children. It may not be the best decision for other people. I’m doing this as a parent. As a board member, I’m not making a recommendation.”
Other board members respond
P.J. Wells, BOE vice president, said its up to parents to direct the path of their children’s education.
“I’m not going to tell you what you should do with your kids,” said P.J. Wells, BOE vice president. “These are your kids. The decision should be between both parents. The biggest thing I’m going to tell them, and the same thing I’ll tell everybody, is that the first thing you do before you even make this decision is go and pray on it. You pray on this and it will come to you.”
Henthorn agreed with Wells and added, “It will eventually become a matter of conscience. It became a matter of conscience to me because I no longer believe that the leaders who are leading us, who are forcing things on our county, I don’t think that their hearts are in the right place. I don’t know them. I’m just making that observation from the way that they behave.”
BOE member Scott Strode said he’s thought about the difference between public and private schools.
“It’s pretty simple,” he said. “You are either going to prioritize the educational part of it or the religious aspect of it, maybe equally both.”
Strode said if given the choice, he would choose to send his children to school where they would get the best education.
“I don’t think anyone in this room (where the BOE meeting room) would do any different,” he said. “Like I said, it’s hard for any of us to think of that from that point of view because we’ve been here forever. We don’t know anything other than to put our kids on the bus that says Tyler County on the side in the morning and off they go. But you don’t have to go very far from here from to where parents who have resources (to send their kids to private schools) to do that. It’s just not something that people from here are very familiar with.”
State vs. local control
Henthorn said she is against public education; she’s against the direction led from officials in Charleston who dictate policy. Part of her decision boils down to local control over schools.
“People at the state level make the rules for the West Virginia,” she said. “They are brought down to us. We have limited power. We should have more. Years ago, the board had a lot more power to do a lot more things. Right now, we don’t have very much power with parents and with things going at the school because everything is mandated from the state.”
Henthorn said her decision was not just based on her disagreement with Common Core, a nationwide educational initiative that details what K-12 students should know at the end of each grade. The top-down standards approach has drawn fire from parents and educators.
“It’s not just Common Core, it’s an attitudinal kind of thing,” she said. “It’s an attitude toward the parents, toward who has control of your kids.”
In December, the West Virginia Board of Education repealed the Common Core-based Next Generation Content standards and has replaced them with what’s known as the West Virginia College- and Career-Readiness Standards. Critics said the new standards too closely resemble those base on Common Core, and Delegate Paul Espinosa, chairman of the House Education Committee, said he expects additional repeal legislation to be introduced during the Legislature’s upcoming session, which begins today.
Henthorn said her advice is to learn more about what’s being taught. She supports Tyler County Schools’ administration and teachers and praised Superintendent Robin Daquilante for getting parents involved with the school system.
“I support the administration, and I support the teachers,” Henthorn said. “The voters did not elect me because I have kids in the system. They elected me because I speak my mind. And I’ve been everywhere speaking my mind about what I think is wrong, not with Tyler County per se, but the direction of education in general.”
The direction of education
Henthorn admits her decision is not likely to be a popular one with educators, among others.
“There are teachers who are not going to be happy with me,” she said. “My point is not with Tyler County. My point is with the leadership. There are teachers here in Tyler County that are not happy. There are staff that are not happy. But for my kids, they need something different.”
A Christian-based education is what Henthorn seeks for her children. She spoke of how a recent study about a starfish development through natural selection relates to the theory of evolution.
“There’s very little here for Christian kids if you really want your kids to have some background in Christian education,” she said. “If you really want them to have any kind of an opposite view of evolution kids are being taught we came from starfish. They’ve had 10 years of that (her children), so now it’s time for them to have a little bit different. That’s where I’m coming from. That is not a reflection of the teachers. That’s a reflection of the curriculum and the state decisions that are being made that are pushed down onto Tyler County.”
Christian teaching at church is not enough for Henthorn.
“In my view, that’s not enough for my kids,” she said.
Public schools don’t have what Henthorn wants for her children.
“Tyler County can’t provide what I’m looking for on the Christian side period because public school can’t provide what I’m looking for,” Henthorn said. “That’s why, when my kids get older, they will attend a private, Christian school.”
Separation of church, state
BOE member Linda Hoover, a retired longtime educator from Tyler County, noted that public schools must observe the separation between church and state. She said this notion of public schools not being rooted in Christianity has been around for decades.
“We all know that God was taken out of the schools years, years and years ago,” Hoover said. “My children all went to the Tyler County schools. I went through the Tyler County school system. You know, what’s happening in Tyler County we do it because it’s what the state tells us we have to do.”
Henthorn broke in, “And that’s not right. That’s not the way it should be.”
Hoover continued, “I just can’t believe that you, as president of the board, are going to say ‘I’m going to homeschool my children, because I feel like I can do a better job than the school system can.’ You know, you can teach Christianity outside school. You can go to church on Sunday. You can go on weekends. You can go when you need to go. I just have a problem with that (Henthorn’s choice).”
Henthorn said she doesn’t intend to send her children to nearby public schools in other counties.
“They’re not going to Wetzel County, because of something that happened here or because Tyler County is not good enough,” she said. “They are going to a different layout completely. With a private school, you have a choice. I have a choice of which private school to enroll them in based on what they teach. That’s what I’m looking for is more choice.”
The closest parochial schools are at least an hour’s drive to Wood County, Henthorn said, so that’s not a feasible option. Public schools can’t offer the kind of education she wants for children, so homeschooling is their only option.
“I believe that for my kids, I don’t think the right decisions are being made at the state level for them,” she said. “What’s being taught, whatever you want to call it Common Core, Next Generation, whatever, standardized testing I think there’s too much testing. I think there are a lot of things that I don’t believe are good for my kids. That’s why I’m making this decision.”