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A School Board President Who Homeschools? How Dare You!

Bonnie Henthorn and her husband spent their formative years in Tyler County public schools. Between them, their two children spent at least 15 years in that school system. The family has paid taxes that support the schools for decades.

With deep roots and a historical perspective like that, Henthorn is an ideal choice for president of the Tyler County school board, a role she has filled since 2014. But none of that matters now because in January she committed the unpardonable sin of public education: She started homeschooling.

Henthorn announced the family decision at the Jan. 4 school board meeting, citing two reasons that had nothing to do with Tyler County schools. “One is that I want them to have a more Christian-based education,” she said. “... Number two is I no longer feel that the state leadership has the best interest of the students at heart.”

That very personal decision, designed to benefit Henthorn’s sophomore son and seventh-grade daughter, quickly became the topic of a very hostile public debate.

At the meeting, board member Linda Hoover peppered Henthorn with questions. She implied that Henthorn couldn’t lead an education system if her children weren’t part of it and that pulling them from it is “a slap in the teachers’ faces.” Another board member, Jimmy Wyatt, called it a “questionable decision” that might show a lack of faith in the county school system.

Bonnie Henthorn (Twitter) Bonnie Henthorn (Twitter)

The outrage escalated over the next few weeks. A Tyler County native created a Facebook group and a Change.org petition demanding Henthorn’s resignation. The Charleston Gazette-Mail published an editorial decrying the “sad mess” in Tyler County and calling Henthorn “unsuited for public school leadership.”

At the next school board meeting, the union that represents Tyler County teachers expressed its lack of confidence in Henthorn. Even West Virginia Board of Education President Michael Green, whom Henthorn specifically mentioned when criticizing state leadership, felt compelled to issue a statement.

The outcry was predictable. Any talk of homeschooling has a way of inciting the passions of people invested in the public school system. Throw in the dynamics of a homeschooling parent with both a vote on public school decisions and strong religious convictions, and you’re bound to hear, “How dare you!”

Similar clashes have occurred in other states, at least twice in the past year. Matt Schulte infuriated public school advocates when he decided to keep homeschooling his young children after being elected to Nebraska’s Lincoln Board of Education. And Texas Gov. Greg Abbott aroused scorn for appointing Donna Bahorich, a former homeschooling parent, as chairwoman of the state board.

But the gripes about homeschooling parents serving as school officials are as wrong-headed as they are foreseeable. Taxpayers don’t need to have children in public schools to formulate good ideas about how to improve the schools they help fund.

That logic would rule out young adults with pre-school children or none at all, middle-aged parents whose children are out of school, and grandparents whose children don’t even live in the area. All of those types of people have different perspectives that could be valuable on any county school board.

The same is true of homeschoolers. Maybe that’s why the requirements to serve in West Virginia are limited to relevant issues like county residence and educational achievement. Arbitrary standards that target families based on where they choose to school their children are unnecessary and divisive.