Ohio Homeschool History, Part 2, by Mark Stevenson
The year of 1988 held many events for home educators, and our family. Home educators were encouraged at first by a well-attended Education Committee hearing in the Ohio House of Representatives. On a Tuesday evening, January 19, 1988, proponent testimony was heard for HB 663, a home school bill, which had 27 co-sponsors. Three hundred and fifty parents showed up to provide testimony that home education worked. Columbus TV news-people packed in like sardines. Bill Ihde led off with philosophical reasons. Following were Diana Fessler, Dr. and Mrs. Warren Donwhour, and Ron and Rebekah Coriell sharing their thoughts and testimonies as home educators. Representative Larry Manahan from Defiance, Ohio was the bill author and sponsor. He stated ecstatically, "All who testified simply did an outstanding job. The Committee was impressed with everyone's testimony as well as with those who were there for moral support." As optimistic as all home educators were, HB 663 would go on to only receive two hearings and would die in committee.
That was the first time I had heard any kind of political action talk since my civics government class in high school. I didn't remember what a state representative was. I had a lot to catch up on quickly, and catch up quickly I did! Dave Johnson was my state representative at the time. I was so intimidated that I only called him a couple of times.
Also on the personal side, my wife and I went to our first Gregg Harris workshop in February at a Friend's Church in Cleveland. We were tremendously blessed and completely invigorated by The Basic Home Schooling Workshop. We went away with a concrete plan, and of course many resources to digest throughout the year. During the workshop, mention was made of HB 663.
Early in 1988, so many things happened almost all at once. Actually, the whole year seemed like a blur with the amount of things that happened. In February, Marcia and Don Mantel and Beth Wolsey had decided, along with the rest of the CHEO Board of Directors, that their offices and home base needed to relocate to Kent, Ohio. Marcia and Beth had put out a plea to local support group members to come together to separate CHEO from the local Stark County support group by deciding on the content of its own board. By April, that had been achieved. Several people stepped forward, including my wife and I, to serve on that first board. By May, all board positions had been filled. At that time, we had been known as CHEO of Stark County.
Many things happened to create a separate identity. A new board, a new name, Christian Home Educators Stark County Association, and a new logo were chosen to make our identity complete. As a budding graphic designer, I created a logo that I was originally going to give to Marcia for the expanding CHEO group, but already, they had one and the one you see became CHESCA's logo. Our support group was left with a base of 42 families. We felt like things were great for our group in that respect. Of course, there was a tremendous amount of work on that first board, laying out job descriptions, board terms, meetings, field trips, policies, etc.
In March of 1988, the State Board of Education had taken definitive steps toward acknowledging the rapidly increasing home school movement in Ohio by creating an ad hoc "Citizen's Advisory Committee to Study Home Based Education". The State Superintendent at that time was Franklin Walters. He commissioned the 19-member committee to meet for approximately four to six months for the purpose of coming to consensus in its proposal for "fair and equitable" treatment of all Ohio home educators. However, the "four to six months" would end up growing well over a year. The committee was composed of nineteen members. Four members were home educators, one member was a pro-home education attorney, and one was the head of a non-public school that provides a satellite program for home-educated children. The remainder of the committee was made up of public education representatives including city, county, and exempted village superintendents, and elementary and secondary school principals. In addition there were representatives of the Ohio Education Association, The Ohio Federation of Teachers, the Ohio School Boards Association, and the PTA. This committee labored together discussing and drafting the regulations.
As the Advisory Committee started its work, Jim and Kathy Woods, from Toledo, were nearly jailed after standing up against their local superintendent for their conviction to home school. For over a year, the Woods had been "going round" over the issue of receiving approval for their home school. Eventually, providence and good media coverage would portray them as victims of unreasonable bureaucracies and the judge withdrew demands he had made earlier of the Woods..
During the spring of 1988 I became acquainted with Jim Dehnart, a home educator and member on the Advisory Committee. I started to have phone and mail contact with him. Jim, a deeply committed Christian, would broadcast all the events of each meeting in a light of "spiritual warfare" through his "Front-Line Report" and "SBE Advisory Committee Update". There were many times that, in Jim's words "things would happen", good and bad. I surely understood where he was coming from and communicated back to him that my prayers were with him, his family and the others on the committee.
During the summer of 1988, it appeared that most people on the Advisory Committee were amicable and cooperative with each other. A message from the committee chairman, William L. Clark, appeared in CHEO's Ohio Home School Companion. Mr. Clark stated, "Our first three meetings have been characterized by a frank and open exchange of ideas, in an atmosphere of mutual respect and willingness to listen to varying points of view. Relinquishment of extreme positions has become necessary as we attempt to fashion a set of rules which will harmonize the State's interest in assuring that each child is adequately prepared for citizenship with the parents' right to educate their children at home without unreasonable or unnecessary interference by the State....I am hopeful that our work can be completed by the end of September." However, summer sped along, and months later Mr. Clark's words would become a distant echo.
That year was also the first time my wife and I had visited a superintendent. Of course, the Ohio home school regulations were in the process of being written so that particular visit will always be special to me because it represents what we should never go back to.