Home-schooling parents are fuming after the B.C. Education Ministry ordered thousands of them to stop using faith-based materials — or any other “unofficial” resource — when teaching their children at home.
Many parents, including some who aren’t religious, say they will cut their ties with the school system rather than obey the directive. “They can’t tell me what to do in my own home,” said Pamela Nagle, whose son is home-schooled but attends a Langley school one day a week.
Nagle, a Christian, said she can understand the ministry’s long-standing refusal to pay for religious materials but won’t abide by an order telling her how to spend her own money. And she won’t be limited to ministry-approved resources that she describes as stagnant.
“I don’t like the fact that they believe they know what’s best for my child,” said Nagle, who spends hundreds of dollars on resources in addition to the $600 she receives from the Langley school district under a distance-education program.
She insists it shouldn’t matter what materials she uses as long as her son’s education meets provincial standards.
Nagle is one of many home-schooling parents lured into the public school system in recent years through an electronic distance-education program. After starting as a pilot project with 2,200 kids, the program ballooned to 6,800.
Although most home-schooling parents are fiercely independent, many enrolled their children in distance education after they were promised they would continue to be their children’s primary teacher, with the public school system playing a supporting role.
The link to the school system gave them teacher expertise that they might not have otherwise, as well as money for resources.
There were benefits for the education system as well, mainly in increased accountability.
The home-schooled children would have the guidance of certified teachers — in addition to their parents — and would be expected to meet provincial learning standards.
They would graduate with a provincial certificate, unlike the roughly 3,000 home-schooling students who have no links with the education system and don’t learn the provincial curriculum.
To encourage the electronic programs, the ministry boosted its per-pupil funding of distance-education students in public schools to the same level as regular students ($5,408 in 2003-04). Cash-hungry districts responded by aggressively courting home-schooling families.
Langley led the pack, expanding its highly regarded U-Connect program and offering — in essence — a school for home-schoolers. Nagle said that program, which has an enrolment of 280 children and a waiting list of 100, is now in jeopardy because parents are set to run.
“I’m definitely not going back and I don’t know anyone who is,” said Anita Kosovic, who has two children in U-Connect. Although her family isn’t religious, she said she doesn’t want to be held to B.C.-approved resources, some of which she says are awful.
“I don’t think anyone should be able to tell me what I can do in my own home and that’s what they’re telling us.”
The Education Ministry said the rules were clear in September 2002 when the cap on enrolment in distance education was lifted. But by January 2004, it realized several were being ignored.
It sent out a “clarification” stating that distance-education programs had to follow the same rules as public schools and notified 10 districts that they would be audited this spring.
“If a district receives full funding for a student, the student is not being home-schooled,” the ministry stated. With regard to faith-based resources, it stated: “Districts must ensure that students are not using religious materials or resources as part of the educational program and that parents are not being reimbursed for using religious materials or resources with students.”
Craig Spence, a spokesman for Langley school district, said the district is also concerned about the directive.
Education Ministry spokeswoman Corinna Filion said parents who want religion in education should go to the independent school system.