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School board discusses offering course options to home-school students

SALISBURY — It won’t be long until home-school students have a shot at participating in classes, clubs and extracurricular activities at public schools.

Making accommodations for the county’s several thousand home-schooled students is a move the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education has been discussing since last year.

But at Monday’s work session, Josh Wells, transition coordinator and project head, said he held the first of what he hopes will be several information sessions with home-school parents. Meetings were structured in a “community cafe” style.

“In a community cafe, we like the parents to come in and talk to us instead of us talking to them,” Wells said.

The meetings, though slim in attendance, gave him a good opportunity to build relationships with the home-school community and to hear what interests and what worries those parents.

“There are three major areas of concern for them,” Wells said.

While parents were interested in their children having access to things like exceptional children’s services, elective classes and clubs, they were concerned about logistics, safety issues such as bullying and district policies.

“Can you give a little bit of background on what they meant by policies?” school board Chairman Josh Wagner asked.

Wells said that on policies, parents wanted concrete strategies in place to ensure that their children have oversight and support on public school campuses and to prevent problems such as transcript mix-ups. That includes, for example, making sure that staff members are trained to register home-school students who take only one or two classes as transfers and not dropouts on their transcripts.

“Every parent that was involved in it was really informed and had some really good feedback for us,” Wells said.

When Wells took a poll, 12 percent of those in attendance said they would not be interested in enrolling their student in two classes per semester. But 18 percent said yes, and the rest said they were undecided. Wells said he sees that as a positive.

“That right there shows their willingness to cooperate with us — their willingness to enroll their child — if they just knew more about us. They really are interested; they really are curious. Their kids are curious. They just need more information.”

If students are enrolled in at least two classes a semester for two semesters, the school system will receive a per-pupil expenditure from the state. But Superintendent Lynn Moody said it would be important to let parents know that the school system is on board with whatever level of involvement students want or need — even if that was just an after school club.

“We’re still your school,” she said. “We’re still here to serve you even if it costs us money to do that. …We want to bridge that gap and be more open and be their provider.”

Board member Dean Hunter wanted to know what is preventing the district from implementing the program immediately. Wells said schools need time and training and the board needs to come up with some solid policies for every eventuality.

“If one instance happens to burn the bridge, we’re gonna have a lot of time to build that back up,” he said. “… It’s a train that’s coming at you from all angles, from all 35 schools. … Everything needs to be in order before we do hit those snags and end up burning bridges.”

Hunter asked if it could feasibly happen by the beginning of the 2018-19 school year.

“Absolutely,” Wells said.

Board member Travis Allen said he thinks the proposal would have more sway with home-school families if the board allowed a degree of open enrollment — so that parents and students could choose any county school to attend. Often, what pushed families away from the public school system was their dissatisfaction with the nearest school.

“We have so many openings in so many good schools, I think we need to start giving parents some choices,” he said.

Wells said he will continue to meet with parents and representatives of the Rowan County Homeschool Association over the coming months.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264. 

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