Home schooling offers options in education

By Lesley Hughes
star staff
lhughes@starhq.com

  The sweet smell of No. 2 pencils and wire-bound notebooks are filling the aisles of stores everywhere. School officials, teachers, and parents are counting down the days and preparing for the first day of school.
  But not all of these students and teachers will be in the public school system on that first day. Some students will wake up at a reasonable time and never set foot on a school bus. These kids are home schooled.
  Parents or legal guardians can determine the class schedule for the day, screen each subject the child learns, and have the freedom to take as many field trips that their gas tank will allow.
  Approximately 5,860 students were enrolled in Carter County's School System last year, and 73 children were registered as home schooled students. K-4 Supervisor Peggy Campbell said reasoning for home schooling varies. Although parents are not required to submit a reason for home schooling their child, some common explanations are the age and cognitive ability of the child.
  "Many times, parents like to home school a child in kindergarten and first grade. Sometimes they think they are too young for public school and some parents just like to home school at that age," Campbell said. Parents of children who have learning disabilities, like Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder also often choose to home school, according to Campbell. "They (students with these disabilities) are distracted easily and some parents like to teach them at home to help," Campbell said.
   Some parents also home school for religious reasons.
  "There are about as many reasons as there are as many children being home schooled," Campbell said.
  Campbell said she doesn't ask parents why they have chosen to educate their child at home, she "just simply checks to see if they meet the qualifications and they complete the information."
  According to State of Tennessee home schooling requirements, the deadline for submitting a "Notice of Intent to Home School Form" is Aug. 1 before a late fee is added. However, state guidelines allow the director of schools to waive the late fee if desired. In Carter County, Director of Schools Dallas Williams has extended the deadline without penalty to Sept. 1. Parents can submit these forms any time through the year but will be subject to a late fee.
  The percentage of children taught at home doesn't seem to be increasing at a noticeable rate, according to Campbell.
  In Tennessee, there are two routes that parents can take for home schooling children: Independent and Church-Based.
  Independent home schools require the parent who will be teaching the child to have a high school diploma or GED for grades Kindergarten through 8th grade. The parent must have a Baccalaureate degree or waiver from the Commissioner of Education, Lana Seivers, to teach grades 9-12. The curriculum for grades K-8 is determined by the parent, but the student must pass standardized tests in grades 5 and 7 required of public school students. The local school system will notify parents of when the test can be taken and the closest public school to the home for test administration.
  Attendance is required, but with significantly less numbers than public school. The student must be educated for four hours per day for 180 days per year. The educating parent is required to keep an attendance record of the student and submit the record to the local school system. If the child "falls one year below grade level for more than two years in a row, the superintendent may require parents to enroll the child in public or private school," according to home school requirements posted on the Tennessee.gov Web site. Grades 9-12 must take the same standardized tests required of public school students, not the high school proficiency test.
  A church-related home school must be recognized by the state, and requirements are set by the church. Even though the student might be educated by a church-related home school, the student is still required to be registered with the Carter County School System as a home schooled student, "so that the state has a record that the child is attending school," Campbell said.
  Advantages and disadvantages of home schooling children need to be evaluated by parents. Campbell suggests that parents "really consider the parts of growing up the child will miss out on." She said parents should make sure they keep their children involved with other children.
  "Interaction is an important part of learning. We are very fortunate in the community that we live in," she added, while referring to Carter County as a "safe community".
  "The school system is dedicated to providing a safe environment and to providing a quality education. A lot of learning in social skills as well as fun for boys and girls is involved in attending (public) school. The teachers in Carter County really do have the interest of the child at heart. But if a parent feels home school is an option for their child, please come by my office," Campbell said.
  Campbell's office is located in the Carter County Board of Education building at 405 Academy Street. She can be reached at 547-4004.