Reading, Writing and Refrigerator Raids

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Clayton has his own reasons for liking the virtual charter school. "It's more fun than real school," he says. "Real school stinks, because you can't go to the bathroom when you want, and you can't have a drink when you want."

But not everyone approves of this educational hybrid. Many in the home-school community are philosophically opposed to providing education in the home if it is in any way linked to the public school system, which charter schools are. The Home School Legal Defense Association, a national Christian nonprofit organization open to all home-schoolers, has railed against virtual charter schools, saying they taint the very independence for which home-schoolers have fought so hard; the Alliance for the Separation of School and State believes that the religious freedoms many home-schoolers hold dear are compromised by quasi-home-based education programs; the nonprofit Christian Home Educators of Colorado wants parents to understand that educating their kids at home with virtual programs such as COVA isn't really home schooling. And individual home-schoolers have been cautioning people about virtual charter schools at home-schooling conventions and on the Web. Some parents have even posted warnings about online schools in Internet chat rooms, where many of them go to form virtual communities with other home-schooling parents.

Earlier this year, in a message to a home-schooling e-mail group she belongs to, Heather mentioned that she was considering COVA; she received a nasty reply from another mom, with the subject heading "Don't do this, don't anyone do this." The woman went on to explain her belief that virtual charter schools don't allow parents to teach religious lessons and that certain bureaucratic restrictions associated with public schools can make virtual schooling cumbersome.

"That made me feel really bad," Heather says of the e-mail. "I don't tell other people how to school their children, so don't tell me how to school mine."

Home schooling today is often perceived as strange, but in the nineteenth century, more children were home-schooled in this country than weren't. That changed in 1852, when Massachusetts passed the first compulsory school attendance law. One state after another followed suit until public school became the norm. In Colorado, children seven years and older are required to attend some sort of school.

In her fourth book on the topic, Homeschoolers' Success Stories, author, columnist and home-schooler Linda Dobson writes, "It's only because we are now looking back over a 150-year history of government-supported, compulsorily attended schooling...that home schooling is perceived as something new."

The modern home-schooling movement started in the 1960s as a left-wing reaction to what many saw as conformity in the public schools. Education reformers wrote books and articles praising the freedom that in-home education could offer, and throughout the next two decades, liberal parents began pulling their children out of public schools. The movement gained momentum in the 1980s with the formation of Home Education Magazine, which was first published in 1983, and the Home School Legal Defense Association, which was created the same year in response to frustration from parents who had to fight local school districts for permission to home-school their children. The HSLDA filed its first case in Washington State, where parents were being denied the right to home-school their kids; while that case was pending, the legislature passed a new law allowing parents to home-school.

Around that time, however, home schooling began to be associated more with Christian conservatives than secular liberals as "changes in the tax regulations for Christian schools forced the smaller among them to close down by the hundred," Dobson explains in her book. "Suddenly, the parents of the students attending these schools were faced with a choice between government school attendance and home schooling. For many, this really wasn't a choice at all, and these Christian families became part of a large second wave of home schooling, joining earlier home-schoolers and boosting the numbers to record highs."

For the next several years, there were legal battles or legislative struggles in one state after another to establish home-school laws, and Colorado was no exception. Prior to 1988, home-schoolers in this state operated under a system of rules and regulations established by the Colorado Board of Education. The rules stated that parents had to apply to their local school districts for approval to home-school their kids.

"Some districts arbitrarily turned parents down," explains Treon Goossen, founder and director of Concerned Parents of Colorado, a coalition of home-schoolers that formed in 1987. "There was an appeals process before the state board of education for parents who had been turned down, but it was tedious and unfair."

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Julie Jargon
Contact: Julie Jargon

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