Board of Education Rethinks Changing Rules For Monitoring Home Schoolers’ Progress

By Lon Anderson
Moorefield Examiner

The Hardy County Board of Education, at its August 3 meeting, reversed direction on a proposed change to home schooling policy that it considered in July. At that meeting the Board had briefly discussed changing requirements for the annual monitoring of the academic progress for home school students in the County.

The requirement for how the progress for those students is tracked annually, as it turns out, is set by West Virginia code. “The long and short of it,” explained Jodie Strawbridge, the Hardy County home schooling program coordinator, “is that our policy has to reflect State code. We have to follow it to the letter.”

At its July meeting the Board had postponed approving an update to the County’s home schooling policy, which Superintendent Sheena Van Meter explained was to bring Hardy County policy into accord with changes that had been made to the State code.

The question, raised by Board member Dixie Bean, was whether the Board “should always require a portfolio to see some of the student’s work as part of the annual monitoring process.” The State code provides four methods of evaluating student progress yearly:

Taking a nationally-normed standardized achievement test;

Participation in a testing program currently in use in the school system;

Submission of a portfolio of samples of the child’s work submitted for review of a certified teacher;

An alternative academic assessment of the child’s proficiency that must be mutually agreed upon by the parent and school system.[private]

Since this is set in state law, the Board cannot change it, Strawbridge explained to the Examiner. The Board can modify policy when the policy is set by the State Board of Education, but not when it’s written into the state code by the Legislature.

Bean’s comments at the July meeting and the Board’s agreement to delay passage of the policy update to consider Bean’s suggestion upset some in the home schooling community. As a result, a few home schooling parents were on hand at the meeting, but none spoke.

According to Strawbridge, of the 21 home school families with whom she works, two-thirds (14) use portfolios as a reporting mechanism for their annual assessment, and seven use testing options. There are a total of 70 families with 113 students that home school in Hardy, she noted.

Strawbridge noted that normally, the evaluations are due in June, but because of the COVID-19 virus, they are not due until December this year.

Having heard that they could make no modifications, Board Vice President Melvin Shook moved to adopt the updated policy as presented. Board member Dixie Bean, who attended by phone, said she didn’t “have any complaints with it” and the updated policy was adopted unanimously with no Board changes.

The Board then turned to another policy issue raised at the previous month’s meeting concerning a plea from a parent to adjust a policy known as 2510 that regulates the weighting of grades for the juniors and seniors who take college classes.

The parent, Sharon Auville, noted at the Board’s July meeting that the State’s recent change to the policy victimized her daughter because she took 27 credits of college courses as a junior and the grades were not weighted. With the new change to policy 2510, seniors in her class that take the same courses will likely have higher grades because it requires them to be weighted this year. She asked the Board to make adjustments that would ensure that all students in the same graduating class will be graded equally for the same courses.

The Board sought help from its staff, and both Van Meter and Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Strawderman recommended against making any change to the State policy: “2510 changes frequently and it could change again in six months,” Strawderman said.

“My recommendations is that you go forth and follow state policy and don’t go back and retroactively make changes,” Strawderman said. “If you do this with 2510 once, you are opening yourself up because it changes frequently.”

Van Meter noted that if you make a change and give this to juniors who took that class, you are creating another problem for other juniors and seniors who will be taking the same courses but graded differently.”

“So we’ve never gone back (to make changes)?” Hines asked. “So you’re darned if you do and darned if you don’t.”

Hines suggested that Auville could go through the local School Improvement Council, which could address the problem. “It would impact everybody if we did it,” he noted, “but it would only impact students at that school if was done through the Council.”

“That would be the best option,” Van Meter said, so the Board took no action on that policy issue.

The Board then did a fairly quick review with the Superintendent about progress for the schools’ reopening plans.

“When you’re at meetings with other superintendents, what do they indicate the other counties are doing?” asked Hines.

“The Governor has a plan for opening September 8,” Van Meter responded. “And we are all following along. But I’ve been following the Governor, and I would not be surprised if that date changed and if we heard about it at the same time (the public does). For now, she continued, “we are focused on Sept. 8 and putting all of the pieces in place for that.”

“We’re not doctors,” Hines said, and if (the COVID-19 virus) is spiking in West Virginia at that point…I guess we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.”

Van Meter noted that at this point the County’s (online) virtual school enrollment is about 650 students.

“I would love to see some information about how the virtual school will work,” said Shook.

“I would love that as well,” said Board Member Nancy Hahn. “I know we are giving your child a computer, but beyond that I know little to tell parents who ask me.”

Van Meter promised to share more information with them on the virtual school, but noted that there is a virtual school handbook available online on the website, and that all of the parents and kids will have to go through a full orientation.

“We’ll be working with them, and everyone will have to be flexible,” Van Meter said.

And since the fall school opening has always been synonymous with the beginning of high school football, Board President Hines asked, “How about the opening games? They are still Sept. 3?”

That was confirmed and it was noted that there would be only two weeks of practices and not even any scrimmages.

“What’s happening with the crowds?” asked Board Member Janet Clayton Rose.

Van Meter noted that she was working with a contractor to put in ticketing machines that would limit the crowds, and more speaker equipment. “But I think it’s going to depend on spikes and be very fluid county by county, and it all depends on what’s happening locally.”

The Board also spent considerable time with Steven Williams, Director of Administrative Programs, getting updated on the status of numerous work orders involving maintenance projects being done to schools in preparation for the new school year. He assured them that the progress on the work was on track for timely completion.

He also briefed the Board on the status of a two-year grant to improve school security for approximately $110,000 through the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA. Through that grant, security cameras will soon be purchased and installed, starting with the high schools.

In other actions, the Board approved an update to its travel regulations policy concerning travel reimbursements, and awarded a three-year contract for financial audits to the firm of Tetrick & Bartlett.

As they were wrapping up, Rose asked about the Board’s tradition of serving teachers lunch at the beginning of the school year. “Fellow Board Members, are you willing to do this this year?” There was general agreement to do it and Van Meter noted that “We haven’t done anything about this yet, but we’ll work on it.”[/private]