Monday, October 14, 2002

What If Homeschoolers Hauled Us Into Court?

I have this friend, Rick Otto, who’s a sign designer and a wonderful Christian husband and father in the west-central Omaha area. His son Kenny is approaching age 13 and has been homeschooled since the end of first-grade.

Making the switch to homeschooling has significantly affected both parents’ ability to earn a living, their working hours and so forth. I’m always curious why people make such big decisions, and what’s behind the sacrifice parents make to homeschool their children.

At my request, Otto wrote down why they left public school . . . and why, now, they are thinking about filing a small-claims court case to try to retrieve the tax dollars that would have been spent on their son had they been able to leave him in public school.

I figured they have foregone something like $35,000 worth of tax-funded education by homeschooling their son.

It had never occurred to me that people like them might have a legal claim on that money. But the more I think about it, the more I think:

What a concept!

What if all homeschoolers and private-school families, too, for that matter, suddenly filed small-claims court cases seeking the tax money that would have been spent on their children had they in good conscience been able to leave them in public school?

How many million zillion dollars would we taxpayers be liable for?

If just one family collected, what might that mean?

Could it be . . . gasp! . . . the kind of breakthrough that would finally get the attention of the educators and the policymakers? Might they finally do an about-face and start delivering what we parents and taxpayers want for our children from our public schools?

We’ve tried everything else. Maybe it’s time to take the public schools to court.

It’s sad to say, but maybe we’ve come to that point where the only thing that people understand is money, and the only way to induce public schools to change their way is to threaten to take away their money.

Now, look. I have never been one to encourage lawsuits. I covered the courts for a newspaper for years and saw the misery and strife that goes on with legal wrangling, hearings and lawsuits.

But there also are justice issues at stake, a whole lot of families with values and standards to defend, and a whole lot of children’s futures.

Maybe it is time to use the leverage of the courts to get what we want.

What do YOU think?

You be the judge. Read their story. Should the Ottos get a refund for the five years they’ve homeschooled?


Why the Ottos Left Public School
By Rick Otto

When Kenny was in first grade, he would come home bored to tears and frustrated from havin' to sit on his hands while kids his age were still learnin' to read. Susan Mackerell had helped us with him, as Kenny went to Sword Of The Spirit for kindergarten. Despite the frustration, I'm sure it was gratifying for Ken to see himself as above average. He led the class in their Christmas Show number, and was one of two RingMasters in their "3-Ring Circus Play Production.” But there came an "incident.”

One day when Kenny was standing in line for something, a little girl would not stop pestering him somehow about something, and finally his patience wore out, and he said, "STOP IT, you witch!"

Well, “everyone” thought for sure he said the "B" word, and he was pronounced guilty and sentenced to be punished.

I came home from work that day to find both him and my wife on the couch in anguish over it.

They told me they wanted to quit Public School and start homeschooling. I told them not to do it so quick. It would be better if Ken would take the punishment whether he deserved it or not. Meanwhile, my wife should do the homework necessary to make the transition to homeschooling if need be. That way it wouldn't look like we got mad and stomped off as soon as things didn't go our way.

They bit the bullet, and we waited it out a bit.

Come February, Kenny came home tellin' us about a little girl in his class who was makin' valentines for her TWO mommies.

He already knew it was wack, and why. He was used to hearing us discuss issues in terms of scriptural morality. He was used to being included in what mostly is reserved for "adult" conversation. We hadn't lied to him about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, and he knew the value of diplomacy in witnessing.

We advised him not to make an issue of it, but we soon after attended a Parent-Teacher conference.

At the conference, everything went pretty much as expected with Kenny gettin' mostly high praises for his work. At the end of it, though, she asked us if we had any questions. The last one I asked was about the little girl with the two mommies.

"What's that about?" I tried to say with idle curiosity, trying to be as mild and unthreatening as possible.

"Oh, that's ______,” the teacher replied, “and her mother is a single parent with her lesbian partner living with her."

She unhesitatingly offered that reply.

I kept it cool as I asked her, "Well, how do you handle that? Does it cause any awkward moments in the classroom?"

She said, "Well I was thinking about inviting the two women to class, so they could explain their relationship to the children themselves."

I just calmly nodded my head, and said, "I see. Well, thanks for the conference. I'm glad Kenny is doing well."

On the way out to the car I looked at my wife and said, "NOW you can start homeschooling!"

(Editor’s note: be advised that the Ottos have a number of friends who are homosexuals, and indeed, homosexuals were among the members of their wedding party. So don’t be thinking they are prejudiced or anything like that. Their objections had everything to do with the fact that these are innocent, vulnerable children in a captive, tax-paid situation. The indoctrination of moral choices that are against their family’s religion and standards are what made public-school enrollment intolerable, not the fact that it was homosexuality per se.)

A couple of years later, I managed to get a swing shift position at my job so I could help by teaching Language, Art, and Math in the mornings.

At the beginning of sixth grade (last year) Kenny complained he was bored with adding, subtracting, multiplying and division, even though he got to do it in decimals and fractions with story problems, etc. So I tested him a little by showing him this:


He thought it was cool! So I got out an old Introductory Algebra workbook I had used at Metro Tech back in 1978.

A college textbook for a sixth-grader? He went through that last year, and did really well.

But at the end of the year he said his brain was toasted so this year he's just doing straight seventh-grade math.

I had become frustrated with the lack of real learning involved with the low level arts and crafts Art projects, so I brought out the Art History book that my brother used at Harvard.

We took turns readin' to each other and had fun distilling what we learned into memorable sayings:

"Paleolithic is CAVE Art, Neolithics decorated their HUTS."

We also would alternate with drawing lessons practicing perspective, and rendering the human form. I let him use superheroes, so he really enjoyed it.


So what do you say? On principle, should they get any, some or all of the money back that they passed up to homeschool?

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