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West Virginia
West Virginia

March 3, 2015

“A” Student Booted by College Because He was Homeschooled

Staff Attorney Mike Donnelly answers questions and assists members regarding legal issues in West Virginia. He and his wife homeschool in the Mountain State. Read more >>

Jacob Berry, a 22-year-old homeschool graduate from Morgantown, West Virginia, recently encountered a sudden jolt in his career plans.

Homeschooled by his father, Dr. Nathan Berry, and his mother, Mrs. Cynthia Berry, who holds a lifetime teacher’s license in Missouri, Jacob graduated from high school in 2012. Upon graduation, Jacob worked in retail and construction before deciding that information technology was the career for him. He applied to and was accepted at West Virginia’s Bridgeport Junior College this past fall.

It was the perfect choice for him: he could continue working and take classes.

“Bridgeport is a great junior college,” Jacob said. “The schedules are amazing and the teachers really helpful. I definitely enjoyed the atmosphere there.”

Diploma Issues

During the application process the family met with admissions staff and informed them that Jacob had been homeschooled. Jacob’s enrollment agreement, signed by the college president, Ms. Sharron Stephens, even acknowledged his homeschooling background.

His enrollment completed, Jacob eagerly began his studies and finished his first two courses, psychology and Introduction to Computers, in January, receiving A’s in both.

As a requirement for Student Success Strategies, one of his next courses, Jacob met with President Stephens. In the course of the interview, Ms. Stephens rediscovered that Jacob was homeschooled and took issue with his education.

“Your homeschool diploma isn’t state recognized. We can’t mess with our federal funding by having people with unaccredited diplomas here,” she reportedly said. The president had Jacob called to the financial aid office after class and gave him one day to produce an “accredited” diploma.

The next day Jacob was called out of his lecture and attempted to explain again to the president that his diploma was valid. Ms. Stephens refused to listen and suggested he take the GED. When he attempted to attend his next class, the school sent him directly to Ms. Stephens who kicked him out and informed him that he was an intelligent young man who would do well on the GED.

“It was a shock,” said Jacob. “She signed the letter acknowledging that I had been homeschooled and then kicked me out. It hurts me that she would do that to me. I don’t want to be negative, but I do feel like it was discriminatory.”

Call for Help

Dr. and Mrs. Berry agree. “We never expected to run into an issue like this,” they said. “It was not considered a problem during the admissions process.” Unsure of their next step, the Berrys contacted HSLDA, where they had been longtime members.

HSLDA attorney Michael Donnelly sent Stephens a letter pointing out to her that federal funding guidelines clearly state that homeschooled students self-certify completion of a home education program. However, the president refused to talk to him.

“She called my assistant to say she wouldn’t talk to me but had referred it to her lawyer who was unavailable until the end of the next week,” explained Donnelly. “I tried to make several calls but got no response. What is appalling is that she didn’t even investigate. Had she looked at the guidelines (which she and financial aid staff should be well aware of) she would have seen that there was absolutely no concern with federal funding.”

He continued: “What concerns me more is the callous disregard she exhibited by kicking him out immediately, as if he had done something wrong. It was quite unprofessional and insensitive to kick out this promising young student and then refuse to engage in dialogue about the issue. At the very least, she should have let Jacob continue taking classes while investigating the issue, especially because Jacob has already excelled at the school. She should be reprimanded by the state chancellor for her immature and unprofessional response.”

Question of Law

Delegate Brian Kurcaba, a homeschooling parent who represents the Morgantown area and has sponsored several pieces of legislation that would benefit homeschooling families in West Virginia, expressed concern.

He also said he plans to investigate the situation.

“I don’t believe Jacob is getting a fair shake,” he said. “It seems strange that many Ivy League schools accept homeschooled students without a GED, but this junior college won’t. In fact, they accepted him knowing the facts, then a short time later kicked him out.”

Kurcaba sponsored a bill that recently passed the House which would remove the requirement that homeschool graduates get a GED to qualify for the Promise Scholarship. “As a homeschooling parent and delegate, I am concerned that something like this could happen. I plan to look into this problem, and if legislation is necessary I will carry it,” he said.

As for Jacob, he has no ill feelings toward the school or Mrs. Stephens. He just wants to continue his studies at Bridgeport. “It’s sad to me that it happened this way. She’s a really nice lady, but this was not very professional. Why didn’t they just tell me at the beginning?”

“Jacob has handled the situation graciously,” Mrs. Berry said. “I am probably a little more militant because as a teacher, when I first encountered homeschooling, I started out skeptical and changed. Realizing that there are still hurdles and that there are people who still have backward ideas about homeschoolers—that’s what this is about.”

If he can’t return to Bridgeport, Jacob is unsure just how his dream of working in information technology will unfold. “Bridgeport—it’s almost too good,” he admits. “It’s a really wonderful situation where I can continue my current job and complete my studies in two years. Most other schools want four years or are distant.”

HSLDA will be working with the family to resolve the issue.

Unfortunately, observed Donnelly, the problem isn’t limited to Jacob or Bridgeport Junior College. He believes that a legislative solution is needed.

“Discrimination against homeschooled graduates appears more frequent and widespread in West Virginia. Homeschooled children who complete a high school education should not be required to take a GED to be admitted to college but should be judged on their merits just like any other high school graduate. We plan to seek legislation that will put homeschoolers on equal footing and prevent this kind of discrimination from happening anymore to young people like Jacob,” he said.

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Protect Your Family

HSLDA defends the rights of parents to homeschool and stands ready to assist our members and their graduates in fighting discrimination. HSLDA membership is valuable and supports our ability to defend the rights of young people like Jacob Berry. Please consider joining us today to stand with the Berry family and to experience the benefits of HSLDA.