A proposed policy revision in the Indian Prairie school district would require many home school students to repeat years of school to graduate with an Indian Prairie diploma.
In Monday’s school board meeting, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Nancy Valenta and School Improvement and Planning Director Mike Popp presented a policy revision that would require home school and private school students in District 204 to present proof that the school they transfer from is accredited before they can apply transferred credits to graduate from the district.
The revision, which would affect section 702.05 of the policy manual, would cut the first two sentences of the current policy, which state the district will accept credits awarded by home or private school. Credits currently transfer as pass-fail unless they have been accredited by an external agency.
A new sentence would be introduced which reads: “Credits and grades awarded by home school will not be reflected on the high school transcript unless the grades are certified by a district-approved external accrediting agency.”
The policy would effectively prevent home schoolers from graduating in the district, said Chris Klicka, senior counsel at the Home School Legal Defense Association, a nonprofit home school advocacy organization. Many home schoolers choose to teach at home because they oppose the accreditation process, and accreditation is also an added difficulty for the parent.
“There’s a very small minority — maybe 2 percent — that are able to work with an accredited correspondence kind of program, but most correspondence programs, most curricula, most families are not accredited and can’t even get accredited,” Klicka said. “To create a policy like that would mean (the district is) just shooting themselves in the foot … people won’t be putting their kids back in public school, because they’ll be losing their credits for high school.”
Klicka estimates there are 50,000 home-schooling families in Illinois, and under Illinois state law, a home school that teaches a required set of subjects in the English language is considered a private school.
Home schooling mother of three and Naperville resident Wendy Montalbano has been home schooling for two years and does not plan on sending her children back to the public school system unless an emergency forces her to work to support the family. If that happened, credits such as an anatomy class taught by a medical doctor that her son took this year would not transfer to the district. Her son would have to repeat any classes he took while home schooled before graduating.
“It’s that fine line of accreditation that they’re holding onto versus testing the students’ abilities as they come into the school,” Montalbano said. “They’re saying that we would have to trust the parents, and we can’t do that — we can’t take the parents’ word for it if the parents have given these classes, kept transcripts, done everything by the book as we were suppose to do, in order for them to come into that school and at some point receive a diploma.”
Montalbano started home schooling when she realized her oldest son — whose name she withheld to protect his privacy as he finishes school — was entering sixth grade with straight As and Bs on his report card but was reading at a second grade level and had not quite mastered fifth grade math. She now home schools all her children, and her son is caught up to his seventh grade reading level.
School board member Dawn DeSart, who questioned the policy revision in Monday’s meeting, said she would like the current policy to stand or else to have a standardized test administered to all students entering the district.
“Whatever the policy says I just want it to be fair,” DeSart said. “Even though people like Wendy don’t have children in the school system, they’re still in the district — they still get a property tax bill like the rest of us do, so they definitely need to have input.”
Valenta said the goal of the policy change is to ensure that every student graduating from Indian Prairie School District has met graduation standards.
“We want everybody that graduates from one of our schools to have some sense of the rigor and standards present in the school,” she said. “We want home school students to pass the same muster. We’re not insinuating that they aren’t now — we just want them to submit transcripts that are accredited, just as we would parochial schools.”
Valenta would not comment on the availability of accreditation for home school classes because she did not know enough about the subject.
At Monday’s meeting, the board asked Popp and Valenta to revise the policy and present it again at the next meeting.