Va. home-school law under attack from former student

Josh Powell says he learned a lot early in his childhood as he was home-schooled, but as the material became more complicated, \'\'things just sort of fell apart.\'\' (Photo by Amber Rose Powell)

Rick Massimo,

WASHINGTON – Virginia law gives unique latitude to parents who home-school their children for religious reasons, and a man who was educated in his parents’ home says it goes too far.

Josh Powell was educated in his parents’ home in rural Buckingham County. He says that the part of the law that not only allows parents to educate their children at home but exempts them from all government oversight is “too much.”

“There’s no requirement for the parent to even be a high school graduate,” Powell told WTOP in an interview Thursday.

A senior at Georgetown majoring in sociology, Powell acknowledges that many home-schooled students excel. “But if they can do that well, the government should still be able to monitor them, and just have proof and a record that they are doing well.”

Scott Woodruff, senior counsel for the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association, said on WTOP Thursday he’s “delighted” that Powell got into Georgetown: “That tells me that, even though he subjectively believes he got a bad education, he actually got a very, very good education.”

Powell says he learned a lot early in his childhood, reading at age 4. But as the material became more complicated, including algebra, “things just sort of fell apart.”

He recently told the Washington Post that at age 16 he didn’t know South Africa was a country, had never written an essay and didn’t know algebra. He added that one of his 11 siblings, who is middle-school age, can’t read yet.

Powell had to take a lot of remedial classes in community college, including three years of math. He says he also misses a lot of common literature and cultural references, but he says the process “made me the person I am today.”

As a teenager, he asked the county school board to be allowed to attend the local public school, but was refused, even though the law says school authorities should consider the wishes of the child. “I think it’s very dangerous for anything to be that hands-off,” Powell said.

Asked whether he felt cheated, Powell says, “At one time I did. I don’t know if I would still use that language now, but I think I did at one time, because there were a lot of opportunities that weren’t allowed to me that I think would have allowed me to succeed perhaps sooner.”

Woodruff, of the home-school association, was asked repeatedly whether it was in the best interest of home-schooled children for local officials to have some oversight regarding home-schooling. He preferred to focus on the problems in public schools.

The remedial community-college classes Powell took were “for public school students,” Woodruff said, adding that 22 percent of adults in Buckingham County are illiterate. “That is the big problem. … A school child in a public school is the picture of government oversight.”

He added that “Virginia is the proud advance guard of religious freedom in America.” He cited Thomas Jefferson’s history as a proponent of religious liberty, and and said that while religious freedom is guaranteed for all Americans, “there’s nothing in the U.S. Constitution about education … education should be left to parents, not to government.”

Follow @WTOP on Twitter.

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