Ohio Homeschool History, Part 1, by Mark Stevenson
My wife and I have seen all kinds of things happen since the year of 1986. Not just in our State of Ohio, but all over the country. This is a historical biography of our experiences. Therefore, I shall preface our story by saying this comes from my recollection and should be understood that there may be scattered details that could be inadvertently left out. I have also depended on past correspondence from my friend Jim Dehnart, who kept us all informed during the time when the Ohio Home Education Regulations were being written. With that, I start this story.
As my wife and I became acquainted with home educators in our neck of the woods, it became apparent that home education was not “cool”. No mainstream consideration, no convenience factor, only pure conviction. As a matter of fact, we had started in the same support group that included the first and only family to take home schooling to the Ohio Supreme Court, the Schmidt family.
Back in those days everyone was committed enough to home schooling their children, that they would "go to jail" to preserve their God-given and Constitutional rights. Therefore, it all started as an incognito adventure. We couldn’t openly declare we were home educating because public school superintendents would prosecute families indiscriminately. If some could imagine it today, home educators gathered in a park, secretly huddled around a "special speaker", an attorney from Youngstown. He was informing us on how to stand up for our God-given Constitutional rights to boldly go where very few typical 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 prosecuted and arrested for our children being truant. In those days we were struggling to answer questions like, "Is it legal". Some of us were afraid to utter, "It’s our constitutional, God-given right". But that was our standard answer. So there we were, taking a stand on one hand, legal or not and concerned on the other hand that the possibility existed that our children would be considered truant and we would go to jail. But the people in the support group gave us courage. God was so good to us in those days. He has always been faithful to us, all the way through. He gave us friendships that gave us the “threefold cord” spoken of in the book of Ecclesiastes.
In the past, support groups meant something because they were exactly that. We gathered an immense amount of strength from each other, exhorting each other with, "You can do it, it's not that hard. Besides, who really knows what's best for your children, the state or you? Do you really think they're going to do a better job with that evolution junk or do you think God would have your children truly learn in un-wasted moments, coming from the Godly perspective from your heart? Think of all those precious, teachable moments you won't loose. You'll see, you will be so rewarded."
Those meetings tend to stick with you through time because there are days when you actually feel like you need to recall those words.
When we moved out of Columbiana County into Stark County, we were told, "You are 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. I mean, these were the people we started home schooling with, the people we started "counting the cost" with. Why would we want to leave them? We really got to love them so much but, eventually, we did move to Stark County. We would still attend some of the other county's field trips for awhile but eventually, we would part ways.
When we went to our first support group meeting in Stark County, we walked in with our two children and sat down. To the right of us was a family with nine children. To the left of us 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 destined meetings of my home school life.
That first meeting in September of 1987 was very meaningful. I met Don and Marcia Mantel. For those who do not know Don and Marcia, let me divert a little.
Back in February of 1983, a group of 30 parents gathered at a McDonald's in Canton, Ohio. It was out of those families that a fledgling state home school support group, Christian Home Educators of Ohio, was born. The leaders of this support group were Don and Marcia Mantel and Beth Wolsey. As decisions were made by this group, Don and Marcia volunteered to help "wherever needed". This put them in the leadership position where no one else chose to be. Some of the decisions made in those first meetings were that the group would be a Christian organization, that the name of the group would be Christian Home Educators of Ohio (not just Stark County or Canton). This decision on the name made the next big step possible, building a state organization out of Stark County.
As Don, Marcia and Beth started to develop the state organization, the county core group started to grow. Marcia was a strong personality and a strong-willed person. Beth was a person who could organize anything. It was Marcia's determination that drew people from all across Ohio and Beth's ability to organize that brought the initial network together.
Coming back to the meeting in September of 1987, I met Marcia Mantel for the first time. Believe me when I say, if you had ever had the opportunity to meet Marcia you would have never forgotten it. She questioned us on everything. It was an interesting moment. She encouraged us to join up with the Stark County group, which we had done. So when I say it was a God-appointment, I am not kidding. That evening meeting is something I always look back on fondly, in spite of the fact that our family size did not fit.
Even as our family was assimilating ourselves 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 starting to come to a conclusion and that we needed to show support by attending the final hearing at the Lisbon County courthouse. Home schoolers from all across Ohio filled the Columbiana Courthouse. As the Schmidt's were fined hundreds of dollars per child being home schooled, they were still being allowed to continue to home school. It was a bittersweet moment as all of us had hoped, for the Schmidt's sake and all home schoolers, that they could get out of the case without penalty. Home schoolers across the state collected money and gave to the Schmidt family to alleviate the burden and pressure. It is interesting to note that when I had talked to Dick and Pam Schmidt a couple of years later, they told me the whole story. I recall he had related how a sheriff came to his home and sat across the dining room table and stated that if he did not put his children in the Columbiana school that the sheriff would come back and arrest them. Dick shared that he looked him in the eye and said, "Well, I guess you will just have to do what you are going to do because we are home schooling our children, and that’s all there is to it". I can remember the pain written on their faces as they were telling Diane and I their story. Believe me when I say, the price was well paid by the Schmidt's and others like them in those early days.
In 1988, I had discovered that HB 663, a home school bill introduced by home school-friendly legislator state representative Larry Manahan, had died in committee. At the same time home schoolers were being called to join an Ad Hoc Committee by the State Board of Education and Department of Education to write regulations to create rules that would bring governing consistency of home schooling throughout Ohio. Some of you may recognize some of these names; Diana Fessler, Jim and Jeanne Dehnart, Bill Ihde, Sharon Tullis and Bob Melnick. However, these home schoolers were quickly starting to become frustrated with the predominant tilt of public educators, superintendents and administrators and their biases against home schooling.
It was Jim Dehnart that I had gotten to know through his "Front-Line Report" and "SBE Advisory Committee Update". Jim was a very spiritually attuned person and God drew me to him to keep Stark County home schoolers informed to the battle that was being waged for the right to home school in Ohio...