City schools’ offer unusual, but good to see

By John Peters -

I found it quite interesting to read Jeff Linville’s report today (page 1A) regarding the move by Mount Airy City Schools to reach out to the local homeschool community.

Let me explain my interest. I have five children: one in grad school, one nearing completion of her undergrad work, one in community college, one taking a break after finishing his secondary education, and one who is a 10th-grader.

We homeschooled our kids for the bulk of their schooling; three of them — our oldest, third- and fourth-oldest — knew only homeschooling until finishing their high school work. Our second child went to public school her final two years of high school, and our fifth child has been in private school one year and public school two years.

As a journalist I’ve covered a number of education issues with various school systems in Virginia and North Carolina, and my wife has a master’s degree in special education.

This is all to say that we know a little bit about the subject.

Personally, I think it’s wonderful that Dr. Kim Morrison, the Mount Airy school superintendent, believes the city schools should offer partnerships to local home school families, allowing them to be involved in some of the educational programs and opportunities the system offers, while respecting the parents’ rights and reasons for homeschooling.

That is highly unusual in the public education system.

Jeff, in his story, quotes an article from EducationNC as stating some school districts have a “gruff” attitude toward homeschool students, and highlighting one parent’s statement that calls that attitude “outright hostile.”

Both statements severely understate how aggressively antagonistic some school districts are toward homeschoolers.

I know one community in Virginia where we once lived had a local school board that would sometimes threaten homeschool families, claiming the families had no right to homeschool and that they were on the verge of being prosecuted under truancy laws — even though Virginia law specifically outlines how families are permitted to homeschool their children.

One time when I was managing editor of a daily paper I interviewed the Democratic Party nominee in the 1997 Virginia Attorney General race, and he outlined a compulsory after-school program he wanted to institute for all children younger than the age of 18 if he were elected.

I asked him about teens who worked after school, and he said the program would grant an exemption. When I asked about how he could force homeschool students into a public after-school program, his looked at me and said something along the lines of “Well, I guess he’d have to give them an exemption, homeschoolers aren’t really offering anything of value to our society anyway.”

As politicians often do, he attempted quite a bit of backpedaling when I mentioned I was a homeschool parent, but it was clear he considered us social trash that had no place in his great society (thankfully, he lost that election — the second time he was defeated by double-digits in statewide elections).

North Carolina can be even worse. When we first moved to North Carolina several years ago, I was surprised to learn homeschool families had to register their homes essentially as private schools, and were subject to visits and unannounced inspections by the Department of Education.

I can recall getting a notice from the department — a notice sent to thousands of homeschool families — stating the department of education would be setting up in different localities around the state on appointed days and homeschool families were to come in and meet with department officials to show their curriculum and answer questions posed by department officials.

The meetings were, in many cases, set up to take place in local police stations in a less-than-subtle intimidation tactic. Turns out the state did not have the legal authority to require attendance at the meetings, so most homeschoolers simply ignored the notices. (Come to think of it, I’m not sure the state followed through on many anyway — the letter was just a way to rattle everyone’s cage for no constructive purpose).

That’s the environment in which most homeschoolers have to live.

So I was overjoyed to see that the Mount Airy city school system is seeking out opportunities to work with homeschool families. I believe the city schools have a lot to offer the homeschooling community, and I believe the local homeschoolers have a lot to offer as well.

In my mind, what’s important is that our children have a quality education and are prepared to move out into the world as adults, to be successful, contributing members of our society.

Whether that happens by homeschooling, educating them in private schools, or through the public education system — or some combination — shouldn’t matter.

Too often public school systems are worried about protecting their political, social, and financial turf rather than educating children.

That’s why it’s gratifying to see the Mount Airy schools open to working with home schoolers.

Then again, as I’ve often said since taking his post more than eight years ago, Mount Airy and Surry County are two of the best, most progressive school systems I’ve seen, and often set an example for others to follow.

I suppose, in retrospect, I shouldn’t be surprised — this is simply another way Mount Airy schools are leading the way. Hopefully, other systems will see the example and follow.

John Peters is editor of The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at

By John Peters

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