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West Virginia


October 7, 2015

Retired Marine Greeted with Demands, Disdain

Mike Donnelly
Staff Attorney Mike Donnelly answers questions and assists members regarding legal issues in West Virginia. He and his wife homeschool.
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When Les Payton returned home to West Virginia after retiring from the Marine Corps earlier this year, he wasn’t expecting a red-tape parade—but that is what he got. When the 27-year veteran helicopter pilot trooped into the Raleigh County School District office to turn in his legally required notice of intent to homeschool, his entire family was shocked by the disdain and unlawful demands they encountered.

Lt. Col. Payton grew up in West Virginia and graduated from Ripley High School before attending the U.S. Naval Academy, where he met his wife Gina. The two were married following graduation from the Academy but were separated for the first two years of their marriage while Mrs. Payton deployed as a logistics officer to Okinawa and Mr. Payton went to flight school in Pensacola, Florida.

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After six years, Mrs. Payton ended her service to focus on homeschooling her children and supporting her husband. During his service in the Marine Corps, Lt. Col. Payton deployed numerous times to Afghanistan and Iraq.

It Should be Simple …

Following their move back to West Virginia, Lt. Col. Payton wanted to hand in their paperwork early in order to obtain a learner’s permit eligibility certificate for their 15-year-old son. The Paytons had been told by other homeschooling families in the district that they should be able to get a certificate—a precursor to obtaining a driver’s license—that same day.

The Paytons prepared a letter containing all the necessary information, including Lt. Col. Payton’s transcript from the Naval Academy’s postgraduate school. But instead of a simple exchange of documentation as expected, the Paytons were greeted with hostility and unlawful demands for information from the school’s personnel.

“We handed our notice of intent to the county’s homeschool coordinator,” recounted Lt. Col. Payton. “She immediately handed us the county’s homeschool notice form and told us to fill it out. When we questioned the use of their form, she instantly became adversarial. She told us the form was legal, and we were required to fill it out. She also said how she hated homeschoolers because we always questioned her regarding the forms. She demanded that we fill out the county form if we wanted her to process our request to homeschool.”

In Front of the Kids

The treatment the Paytons were subjected to made an impression on their children as well.

“Our 9-year-old even commented that she had ‘never seen anyone treat her mother like that.’ ”

—Lt. Col. Les Payton

The Payton family has homeschooled for many years. The Payton family has homeschooled in at least four different states and the District of Columbia.

“Our 9-year-old even commented that she had ‘never seen anyone treat her mother like that.’ ” Payton added. “Our oldest son said, ‘I would never go to school there,’ after the meeting. We would not have gone there with all our kids if we knew that home education was under such attack.”

As of October 2, the Paytons have still not received the needed documentation for their son’s learner’s permit. They also have been threatened with a truancy investigation unless they hand in an annual assessment, something that HSLDA says is not required by law.

HSLDA’s attorney for West Virginia, Michael Donnelly, said that the local district and the state board of education—which informs county officials—are inventing unlawful requirements.

“I explained to the district that the assessment requirement is prospective—so that superintendents can determine if a child has made acceptable progress,” said Donnelly. “The assistant superintendent seemed to understand that, but when he checked with the state board of education they told him that the school district should require an assessment to establish a ‘baseline.’ It should be obvious that the homeschooling law only applies when you live in the state, not before you live in the state. Lt. Col. and Mrs. Payton homeschooled in the District of Columbia last year, and West Virginia law makes no allowance for collecting information to create a baseline. They are just making it up.”

Poor Treatment

But even worse than the red tape, said Donnelly, was the fact that the Paytons encountered such hostility.

“The treatment of these returning veterans is disgraceful,” he said. “We have called on the school to cease from harassing this family and to publicly apologize. One of the staffers at the school district even questioned Lt. Col. Payton’s integrity by writing on a form that the Paytons ‘came from out of state—supposedly.’ ”

Payton explained that the transition to homeschooling in West Virginia was more frustrating than he expected.

“I’ve done a lot with the Marines, but I have to say that this entire event has been pretty stressful,” he said. “And it would have been more so without HSLDA’s support. There were moments that [my wife and I] both restrained ourselves as we felt discriminated against, a little harassed by the letters, and quite shocked that our children would be witness to the confrontation.”

Payton encouraged others to join HSLDA.

“We have been so grateful that we have invested in HSLDA over the last decade. Being a Marine family and home educating in at least four different states and D.C., we have never been treated like this or felt a need to even contact HSLDA in the past—other than as a wonderful reference source. We are thankful for their skillful recommendations, legal advice and timely injections. We look forward to a positive conclusion to this saga, and know with HSLDA on board, our and other home educating families’ interests are best represented. We will always encourage other families to invest in the ministry of HSLDA.”

“This incident strengthens my resolve to reintroduce our legislation to modernize our homeschooling law.”

—Del. Brian Kurcaba

Calling for Reform

Donnelly pointed to this situation as one more example for the need to re-introduce and pass legislation vetoed by the governor last year.

“The legislature passed commonsense reforms to the homeschool law that would have prevented this situation from happening,” he said. “Although the legislature unanimously passed this law, the governor vetoed it. I hope that the Paytons’ experience will demonstrate to the governor and others why the homeschooling community in West Virginia is looking for modernization of the law. We look forward to working with the legislature and the governor’s office to insure that the legislation is moved forward, so that situations like this can never happen again in the Mountain State.”

Last year this homeschool legislation was sponsored by Brian Kurcaba, a homeschooling father and delegate from the Morgantown area. He vowed to fight for the changes again this year.

“This incident strengthens my resolve to reintroduce our legislation to modernize our homeschooling law,” Kurcaba said. “Homeschooling parents should not have to put up with this kind of treatment. It is clear that the school staff and the West Virginia State Board of Education either made a mistake or have reached beyond what was within their authority under the law. I do hope that the superintendent’s office in Raleigh County does the right thing and apologizes for their error.”

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