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West Virginia
West Virginia

March 17, 2015

College Relents, Reinstates Homeschool Graduate

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 >>

Last month, Jacob Berry, a 22-year-old homeschool graduate from Morgantown, West Virginia, and straight-A student, was kicked out of West Virginia’s Bridgeport Junior College when the school’s president, Sharron Stephens, realized he was home educated.

She told Berry that his presence on campus jeopardized the college’s federal funding and gave him one day to produce an “accredited” diploma. Although the family had complied with the state’s homeschool law, homeschooling parent-issued diplomas are not “accredited.”

HSLDA previously reported that the president was misinformed because federal guidelines simply require parents to certify the completion of high school in order to qualify for financial aid. There was never any risk to the school, said HSLDA Staff Attorney Michael Donnelly. Donnelly sent a letter on behalf of the member family to the college president, but she refused to talk to him. So Donnelly publicized Jacob’s story.

Right to Know

“I prefer to resolve situations like this amicably,” Donnelly said. “In my view this was quite egregious. I tried to reach out to the president, but she refused to talk with me. The homeschool community and the public had a right to know about this, and I am glad that public input has helped rectify the situation.”

It appears that the unfavorable publicity and criticism surrounding the action by the college caused President Stephens to relent and call Jacob to inform him that he would once again be welcome at Bridgeport. Berry was very pleased.

“It took me off guard,” Jacob said. “I honestly wasn’t sure it would be resolved that soon. I’m really excited about going back and glad everything is reconciled and no bridges were burned. It will be good to see everybody.”

Ms. Stephens has assured the family that when Jacob is reinstated in April, he will not lose any time because of the school’s unreasonable actions.

Call for Change

Donnelly welcomed the news: “I’m pleased with the school’s decision, but the disruption was unnecessary. This shows how ill-informed officials can cause problems for home educating families. It’s why HSLDA initiates and supports changes to West Virginia homeschool law.”

HSLDA, along with CHEWV, WVHEA, and homeschooling advocates, had worked with Senator Robert Karnes of Upshur to introduce SB 447, a bill that would prohibit such discrimination against graduates.

“SB 447 will hopefully make sure that something like this won’t happen again,” Donnelly continued. “We are asking West Virginia homeschoolers to contact the governor to sign the three bills that passed the West Virginia Legislature unanimously and which improve the environment for homeschooling families in West Virginia.”

In looking back on the past few weeks, the Berrys acknowledge the timing was providential, considering SB 447 was in the legislature, and Jacob’s story helped put a face on the discrimination homeschoolers sometimes encounter.

“A lot of negative things seemed to go wrong, but the Lord’s worked it out for good,” Dr. Berry said. “In the long run I think [this experience] is going to be positive for Jacob and beneficial for the homeschoolers of West Virginia.”

Jacob concurs: “It’s amazing to see the Lord’s hand at work. It was meant to draw attention to [SB 447] and be a forerunner for other homeschoolers.”

Giving Thanks

HSLDA is thankful to have seen yet another case of discrimination successfully resolved for a member family.

“We’re just so grateful,” Dr. Berry said of the family’s HSDLA membership. “It’s really encouraged us as a family that though our boys are no longer in homeschooling, it’s something that we should give back to the community. It’s really good to have the backup and legal credentials; I know it had a huge impact.”

HSLDA defends the rights of parents to homeschool and stands ready to assist our members and their graduates in fighting discrimination. Your HSLDA membership is valuable even after your children graduate 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.