Ohio Homeschool History

Excerpted from the book, “Protected From the Gates of Our Enemies” – Ohio Home School History

Copyright © 2007 by Mark A. Stevenson

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher/author.

Ohio Home Education Regulations: A Look Back

From Melanie Elsey: Home education in Ohio is now well past the mile mark of the first K-12 generation. Home school graduates are leading productive, Christ-honoring lives. The purpose of this article is to take a look at the history of home education in our state, with a perspective of appreciation for all that has transpired to safeguard our God-given freedoms to educate our children. As time moves forward and more families take the first step of faith to assume their responsibility to teach their children, the important battles waged and won may begin to fade. The following narrative is excerpted from a lengthier and comprehensive reflection of what has been achieved – from the experiences and perspective of one NE Ohio home school veteran…Mark Stevenson.

What was it like back then?
Mark A. Stevenson

My wife and I have observed and experienced a multitude of events since 1986, not just in our state of Ohio, but all over the country. This is a biography of our experiences. Therefore, it is necessary to preface our story by clarifying that this comes from my recollection and should be understood that there may be scattered details, inadvertently missed, that other home schoolers in Ohio can add to.

As we became acquainted with home educators in our neck of the woods, which at the time was Columbiana County, Ohio, it became apparent that home education was out of the mainstream. There were no regulations, no convenience factors, only pure conviction. As a matter of fact, we began our experience with the same support group that included the first and only family to take home education to the Ohio Supreme Court, the Schmidt family.

For our family, home education began as an incognito experience, during a period of time that parents were willing to risk legal consequences, including jail time, to preserve their God-given and constitutional rights. We couldn’t openly declare we were home educating, because public school superintendents were indiscriminately prosecuting families. It’s difficult to imagine now, but we recall home educators gathering in a park, secretly huddled around a “special speaker,” an attorney from Youngstown. He was informing us of the potential to stand up for our God-ordained rights and boldly go where very few American families had gone before…that is, not since the early 1800’s. It was an exciting time, but also very somber as we, one by one contemplated the potential of being arrested and prosecuted for the truancy of our children. We struggled to answer questions of legality and some of us were afraid to utter, “It’s our constitutional, God-given right!” But, that was our standard answer. Families in our support group gave each other courage and we experienced God’s goodness. In fact, the Lord has always been faithful to us, all the way through. He provided friendships that gave us the “threefold cord” spoken of in the book of Ecclesiastes.

When we moved from Columbiana County to Stark County we were told, “You are so blessed. There is such a great support group there. You’ll love it! They are so organized and that is where CHEO is based.” The problem was we were already attached to the group in Columbiana County and were really apprehensive about the move. After all, these were the people with whom we began home education, with whom we started “counting the costs.” We had grown to love them so much, but eventually completed our move to Stark County.

When we attended our first support group meeting, we walked in with our two children and sat down. To our right was a family with nine children. To our left was a family with ten children. I can remember turning to my wife and whispering, “I feel just a little out of place here. Can we go yet?” That meeting turned out to be one of the most predestined meetings of my home school life. It was September of 1987 and we were privileged to meet Don and Marcia Mantel.

For those who do not know Don and Marcia, let me divert a little. In February of 1983 a group of 30 parents gathered at a McDonalds in Canton, Ohio. It was from this meeting that a fledgling state home school support group, Christian Home Educators of Ohio, was born. Don and Marcia, along with Beth Wolsey, started to develop the state organization. Simultaneously the county core group started to grow. With Marcia’s determination and Beth’s ability to organize, families were drawn from all across Ohio and the initial network was brought together.

Even as our family was assimilating into the Stark County support group, things were heating up in Ohio. In December of 1987, the Stark County group was being informed that the Schmidt case was coming to a conclusion and we needed to show our support by attending the final hearing at the Lisbon County Courthouse. Home educators from across the state responded and filled the courthouse. As the Schmidt’s were fined hundreds of dollars per child being home schooled, they were still permitted to continue home educating! Home educators statewide collected the funds needed by the Schmidt family to alleviate their financial burden and pressure.

In 1988 I discovered Ohio House Bill 663, a home school bill, introduced by State Representative Larry Manahan, a home school-friendly legislator. Home educators were encouraged at first by a well-attended House Education Committee hearing. It was a Tuesday evening, January 19, 1988. Proponent testimony was heard for HB 663, which by the way had 27 co-sponsors. Three hundred fifty parents showed up to provide testimony that home education works. Representatives from the media packed the hearing room like sardines. CHEO Board Chairman Bill Ihde led off with philosophical reasons. Following were Diana Fessler, Dr. and Mrs. Warren Donwhour, and Ron and Rebekah Coriell sharing their thoughts and testimonies as home educators. Representative Manahan stated ecstatically, “All who testified simply did an outstanding job. The committee was impressed with everyone’s testimony, as well as those who were there for moral support.” As optimistic as we all were, HB 663 would go on to only receive two hearings and die in committee without a vote.

In March of 1988, the State Board of Education had taken definitive steps toward acknowledging the rapidly increasing home school movement in Ohio by creating an ad hoc “Citizen’s Advisory Committee to Study Home Based Education”. State Superintendent Franklin Walters commissioned the 19-member committee to meet for approximately four to six months for the purpose of coming to consensus in its proposal for “fair and equitable” treatment of all Ohio home educators. However, the “four to six months” would end up extending well over a year. Of the nineteen committee members, four members were home educators, one member was a pro-home education attorney, and one was the head of a non-public school that provides a satellite program for home-educated children. The remainder of the committee was made up of public education representatives including city, county, and exempted village superintendents, and elementary and secondary school principals. In addition, there were representatives of the Ohio Education Association, the Ohio Federation of Teachers, the Ohio School Boards Association, and the PTA. This committee labored together discussing and drafting the regulations. The following is a list of people that served on that committee: Betty Baker, Thomas Baker, Beverly Basler, Robert Bowers (ODE), William Clark (Chairman), Ruth Clephane, Diane Dawson, James Dehnart, Diana Fessler, Mark Gagyi, William Ihde, Donna Lightel, Robert Melnick, Mary Posten (ODE), Carolyn Reed, Ronald Roth, Claude Schindler, Jr., Ron Thompson, Sharon Tullis, and Dorothy Wilson.

As the Advisory Committee started its work, Jim and Kathy Woods, from Toledo, were nearly jailed after standing up against their local superintendent for their conviction to home school. For over a year, the Woods had been “going round” over the issue of receiving approval for their home school. Eventually, providence and good media coverage would portray them as victims of unreasonable bureaucracies and the judge withdrew his demands.

By October, the Citizen’s Advisory Committee’s work was well underway. As home educators on the committee were starting to experience resistance, some were beginning to wonder if any progress was truly being made. One committee member wrote in his Frontline Report that the home educators were starting to believe the Department of Education had a hidden agenda and until all their ideas fell in line with the Department’s expectations, nothing would be accomplished. He wrote in regard to the statement of purpose, “There was a lot of debate about a preamble, with Dr. Bowers stating that none of the other department regulations have a preamble or statement of purpose. We feel strongly that this is necessary and appropriate. We have pointed to the number of states, most recently Hawaii, who have a statement of purpose which recognize the primary right and obligation of the parent to choose and direct the education and training for their child and…to ensure that children are provided the necessary educational opportunities for citizenship, and not that children shall be educated in any particular manner or place.”

During the December committee meetings the home educators, that were on the committee, felt the deck was stacked against them because of the proportion of public school representatives to home educators. The home educators became so disenchanted with the control exerted by the Ohio Department of Education that they filed a formal protest with the State Board of Education protesting the make-up of the committee was “stacked with professional educators”. Some home educators became discouraged and again began to consider withdrawing from the committee because of the constant debating with the Department of Education. The committee debates focused on socialization, securing the freedom and rights of parents to home educate their children while satisfying the “compelling interest” of the State, etc.

Several concerns, such as these, were brought to a “boiling point” and issues started to come to a head. In a December 1988 committee meeting, home educators on the committee were accused of not giving their consensus to a draft, with which they could not agree. Along with the tremendous pressure that was being applied to home educators to “agree”, some “leading” members of the committee had accused home educators of politically stone-walling the committee in order to hold out for a new piece of legislation coming out by Rep. Manahan. Despite the stonewalling accusations, CHEO had sent out a questionnaire/survey of which, 215 home educators responded. Ninety-three percent of respondents to the CHEO survey had rejected the current draft! It was not the intent of home educating Advisory Committee members to stonewall anything. They were just representing the views of their constituency. In fact, it really seemed to be just the opposite as they suspected the public educators on the committee were wanting some kind of regulation “in place” before anyone seriously started to look at the anticipated Manahan bill.

As expected, in March 1989 State Representative Larry Manahan, from Defiance, introduced HB 217 (a redraft of HB 663), with 22 co-sponsors. On March 14, he provided sponsor testimony on his legislation. He stated the primary focus was to bring balance to the state’s interest in educating its future citizens with parents’ inherent Constitutional right to home educate and to accomplish this in a least restrictive manner. Atty. Michael Smith from HSLDA, also spoke during the same hearing to present additional testimony supporting the bill from a legal and Constitutional viewpoint. On April 25, the Education Committee heard testimony from four proponents: Mrs. Inge Cannon, from Bill Gothard’s ATIA home education program; Ohio State University Prof. Larry Zavodney, a home educating parent; Dick Schmidt, who went to the Ohio Supreme Court to defend his and our rights to home educate in Schmidt vs. State of Ohio; and Jim Dehnart, as a home educating parent and a member of the Advisory Committee. Rep. Manahan felt that “all did a tremendous job of informing the committee and all were well received”. Rep. Bara placed the bill into a sub-committee for further detailed study on the bill and for hearings. The sub-committee consisted of Rep. Mark Malone, Rep. Mike Fox and Rep. Michael Shoemaker.

As HB 217 made its way into the Education Committee, home educators were starting to assess their ability to lobby the committee members for passage without any amendments. However, political realities are that very rarely do pieces of legislation make it to floor votes without amendments. As it was, we were citizens new to the process and learning more every day. We knew we didn’t stand a chance with HB 217 getting voted out of committee if we could not get cooperation from the Education Committee chairman, Rep. John Bara. However, it did seem likely since he was one of the bill co-sponsors.

Alternatively, the scene switched back to the Ad Hoc committee working on the regulations. In a rare form of agreement, the committee’s work came to a conclusion by agreeing to recommend a draft that was agreeable to home educators on the committee. In Jim’s words, “The proposed regulations remain an ‘amiable approval process’, but will work more like a notification process. Truly, this has been a long and difficult year, and I firmly believe that our Lord has heard and answered our prayers throughout the year. I personally think the recommendation is an improper (illegal) use of regulatory authority to limit the Constitutional and God given responsibilities of parents to home educate. However, I view the recommendation as only part of an ongoing process, where the public educators have drawn the line as to how far they are willing to bend. From here on out, it’s going to require a commitment and diligence on all of our behalves to secure a freedom which has slipped from our hands”.

In April 1989, the Advisory Committee proposed their Draft to the State Board of Education. On Monday, July 10th, 1989, the State Board of Education met and voted to adopt the home education regulations, with no changes. The Draft called “Rules For Excuses From Compulsory Education for Home Education” was transferred into Ohio Administrative Code 3301-34-01 through –06.

As a home educator, I do not fear that our “golden years” are gone in Ohio. On the contrary; within the context of the larger picture I believe the best is yet to come. The Lord God has been with us in so many ways. It is up to each of us to remain vigilant. None of us can ever afford to “let someone else” be responsible. Each of us must pick up our sword and trowel. Bill Ihde, past Chairman of the CHEO Board wrote in the March/April 1988 issue of the CHEO Companion, the following narrative:

“One hundred years ago that distinguished preacher, Charles Spurgeon, started a Christian magazine that went out from London, England. He called it The Sword and Trowel. That rather peculiar title was borrowed from Nehemiah’s Old Testament account of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. It was there that the Jewish remnant, facing great opposition but ‘having the mind to work,’ divided their families along the rubbled wall. Nehemiah further explains that they that built, did indeed, hold with ‘one hand a trowel to build, and with the other hand a weapon to battle.’ This gallant posture of work and war was spurred on by the prophet Nehemiah’s call to ‘Be not afraid of the opposition, remember the Lord, which is great and terrible and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses.’ (Nehemiah 4:14). May I add…and for the right to educate your children!”

Mark A. Stevenson is the former Chairman of the Board of Directors for Christian Home Educators Stark County Association and currently serves as Ohioans for Educational Freedom’s Director.  An expanded edition of this article will be available here in the near future.