It seems that West Virginia education officials have broken their promise to abide by the law and respect the privacy of homeschooled students.
I was astonished to learn last week that despite earlier assurances, the West Virginia State Board of Education (SBE) appears to have continued to require county boards of education to collect information on homeschooled students for inclusion in a statewide database known as the West Virginia Education Information System (WVEIS).
I sent this cease-and-desist letter to State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch, demanding that the SBE immediately stop this unlawful practice. This is a serious breach of trust and demonstrates why West Virginia homeschoolers must persuade legislators to protect our children from overreaching state authorities.
This quest by officials for information they are not entitled to is an issue in other states as well. In New York, for example, many public school districts insist homeschool families provide students’ birth certificates and proof of residency so they can be entered in the statewide database.
In North Carolina, a pair of public school districts are considering hiring workers to canvass neighborhoods in search of disenrolled students—including some who may now be homeschooling.
This issue first came to my attention in 2021, when several HSLDA members informed us that they were being pressured to provide information on what grade their homeschooled students were in. West Virginia law does not require information about a student’s grade level as part of the notice of intent to homeschool, so I advised our members to ignore this particular demand.
Then, one mom told me that a county school board secretary had said that her student’s grade and birthdate were needed to create a WVEIS number. This was the first time I had heard of homeschoolers being entered into the state’s public school student database.
I was gravely concerned, since most homeschoolers I know say they have no interest in having their students’ information entered into any statewide database, and because I was unaware of any legal authority the board had to do such a thing.
I then worked with Kathie Hess Crouse, then-president of the West Virginia Home Educators Association (WVHEA), to bring these issues before the State Board of Education. Although the SBE has virtually no formal authority to oversee home instruction, it is influential in setting statewide policy and providing technical assistance to counties.
Crouse contacted the SBE homeschool liaison. He told her that the reason county public school officials were seeking grade-level data was so that they could track homeschool compliance with the required assessments in grades 3, 5, 8, and 11. Crouse discovered that the SBE had taken the initiative to create the possibility for county boards of education to input this information into the state database.
Knowledge is Power
I haven’t met an education bureaucrat who did not like to track data. I get it—people who think they are in charge want to know as much as they can about what they think they are in charge of. Indeed, Superintendent Burch told me he is regularly asked by state legislators for data about homeschoolers.
But the state is not in charge of homeschooling in West Virginia. First are parents who have a fundamental right to homeschool. West Virginia law assigns the legal authority to receive assessments to local county boards of education and the conduct and reporting of assessments to parents.
Even if it might be understandable that state-level officials would like to use their big database for this purpose, as I told Superintendent Burch during our meeting in October 2021, it is far more important that state agencies follow the law and not exceed their authority.
Upon learning of this problem, I scoured state law to ascertain how the SBE could do such a thing. I learned that West Virginia Code 18-2-5h grants the board authority to set up a statewide database. However, I found no authority for the database to include home educated students. I also noted that the law contains numerous requirements relating to policy, notification, and other provisions that had not been followed.
I alerted State Senator Patricia Rucker, chair of the Senate Education Committee and a strong supporter of homeschoolers. She offered to bring the matter up with the state superintendent of schools. I was pleased when she called back to say that she had spoken with Superintendent Burch and that he assured her he would look into the matter and resolve it.
Working in Good Faith
In October, Kathie Crouse, Christian Home Educators of West Virginia Legislative Liaison John Carey, and I met with Burch and his staff. Burch showed me a letter he intended to send to county boards of education. I reviewed the letter and shared my opinion that it should be strengthened, but that we appreciated the superintendent’s willingness to address the issue. I accepted his promise that homeschool student information would not be included in the WVEIS database, and considered the matter resolved.
But in March 2022, another HSLDA member family learned that Randolph County had assigned WVEIS numbers to their children. I wrote to the SBE homeschool liaison and reminded the board about their agreement to address this issue.
In June, I heard from Kathie Crouse that more families are continuing to encounter this issue. This prompted me to send the cease-and-desist letter.
The state’s ongoing violation of homeschoolers’ privacy—despite repeated assurances to the contrary—demonstrates why West Virginia homeschooling families must be free from unwarranted intrusion. Education authorities at both the state and county level have proven that they cannot be trusted to “oversee” homeschooling.
HSLDA has supported legislation that would address these issues. Senate Bill 541, introduced in 2022, would have reduced the number of times homeschoolers are required to submit assessments to county boards from four times to once, after their first year of homeschooling.
SB 541 passed the Senate but never received a hearing in the House Education Committee.
The current situation shows why homeschooling families in West Virginia should not be required to submit any data beyond a simple notice of intent to homeschool. HSLDA will be working with our state partners to see that this behavior is ceased and to protect the homeschool community by law from such invasive conduct.