A 2018 law was supposed to make it easier for West Virginia homeschool parents to get a learner’s permit for their students in driver’s training. For Wendy Summers, a homeschool leader, a trip with her son to the Kanawha County DMV office was unnecessarily frustrating when workers refused to follow the law.

Few people look forward to dealing with the state Division of Motor Vehicles. With long lines and lots of paperwork, the process is rarely enjoyable.

For decades, it was even more complicated for homeschool parents. They had to go to the local school board to get a document stating their student was making adequate academic progress before they could apply for a learner’s permit.

Sometimes, recalcitrant or uninformed school bureaucrats would refuse to issue the paperwork or would cause unnecessary difficulty for homeschooling parents.

That is why, in 2018, HSLDA worked with state advocacy organizations CHEWV and WVHEA—and homeschool-friendly legislators like current Senate Education Committee Chair Patricia Rucker—to improve homeschool laws.

Misinformed about the form

One change empowered parents to sign a statement that their students’ academic progress made them eligible to apply for a learner’s permit from the DMV.

Wendy Summers was counting on this rule change when she gathered her paperwork and took her nervous and excited son, John, to get his learner’s permit. She expected that DMV workers would know and understand the law as it relates to homeschoolers.

“I’ve been a board member of CHEWV for a long time, so when I took my CHEWV form to the DMV, I expected it would be accepted,” said Summers. “It wasn’t. It was frustrating and a little embarrassing to have to try to educate the DMV workers, who insisted that I had to use their form instead of what the law clearly allows: a signed statement.”

She added: “Because I didn’t want to have to make a second trip, I ultimately just went along with using the DMV form. It was shocking to me to learn that, even when the law is crystal clear, that DMV employees can get away with ignoring the law.”

Summers made a call to the DMV, and after being passed around to various customer service representatives, she asked to consult a supervisor. The answer she received was concerning.

“The supervisor told me that it was a requirement that I use the DMV form,” reported Summers. “That is when I called HSLDA.”

Taking back the driver’s seat

Summers is a tremendous asset to the homeschooling community in West Virginia. She and her husband James have worked for years as board members of CHEWV. 

When Wendy Summers also told me that CHEWV and others had reported similar problems in other DMV locations, I knew this need to be addressed.

My letter to the DMV commissioner was responded to almost immediately by Adam Holley, the division’s general counsel. In an email, Holley apologized for the mistakes made by the DMV staff and assured me that the DMV would take immediate corrective action.

“DMV policy is already consistent with what you have identified, so it is disappointing to hear that the policy may not have been followed,” he wrote. “Homeschool parents can find a sample form on our website to complete for their children to obtain a license. Also, Christian Home Educators of West Virginia (CHEWV) has a nearly identical sample form on its website. As a parent of two homeschool graduates, I can empathize with the situation, and we will make sure that all your clients are treated fairly.”

(By the way, HSLDA also has a form for this purpose, along with other helpful resources for our members. If you homeschool in West Virginia, be sure to bookmark www.hslda.org/wv.)

When I spoke with Holley by telephone later, he reaffirmed his commitment and that of the DMV to providing good customer service. He said he appreciated this being brought to his attention so that the DMV could take steps to make sure its staff were familiar with the law.

“The average experience level for our staff is three years,” he explained. “That means that there is always a lot of training going on, and not everyone is as familiar with all the policies. We work hard to make sure the experience people have at the DMV is a good one, but we’re not perfect.”

He added: “I know that homeschoolers, by choosing to be a little different, may encounter some friction. Usually that is from the education departments, and I plan do my best to make sure that our department understands and follows the law.”

“Of course,” Holley continued, “at the DMV, we support students no matter what school they are in. My family had a great homeschool experience, and I always tell folks who are interested that homeschooling can be a great option. So, I try to explain that to my coworkers who may not be as familiar with this educational approach.”

Some helpful info

During our chat, Holley shared with me another important tidbit of information—homeschoolers can now apply for a learner’s permit online!

“With a parent proctor, a homeschooled student or any other student can take the learner’s permit test online from their home,” explained Holley. “We started this new process at the start of the pandemic, and we see no reason to stop it. It’s a great option for new drivers and makes life easier for parents.”

I was excited about this as I have a student who is about to apply for their learner’s permit. I’m feeling much better about the DMV now and looking forward to trying out this new service. West Virginia homeschoolers can learn more about this option here.