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Kicked Out: A Homeschooler's Unfortunate Event

05-13-2015
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FAIRMONT, W. Va. -- In 2012, when Jacob Berry finished high school, his next step was a big question mark.

"I really was unsure for a couple of years about what I wanted to do," he told CBN News.

The 22-year-old later applied to the Bridgeport campus of West Virginia Junior College, where he majored in information technology.

During the application process, Berry informed the admissions office that he had been homeschooled. After he was accepted, he began taking classes and earned straight A's.

But things quickly changed.

GED Required

As part of a class assignment, Berry and other students were required to interview the school's president, Sharron Stephens. During their meeting, Berry's homeschooling education became an issue. 

He was told that his presence on campus jeopardized the college's federal funding. Stephens gave him just 24 hours to present an accredited diploma or he would need to take the GED.

"It was a little degrading," he said. "I have to be honest, it was a little disheartening."

"I was like, 'I kind of proved myself that I've gotten a 4.0 in two of your classes and you're making me take a general equivalency test that's for dropouts,'" Berry said.

When he failed to hand over a diploma, school officials pulled Jacob out of class and booted him from the school.

His parents, who homeschooled him and his older brother without any problems, were shocked by the school's actions.

"I didn't expect to come up against something like this," Berry's mom, Cynthia Berry, who holds a lifetime teaching certificate, said. "I just assumed that other homeschoolers have blazed the trail and taken care of that so initially I was taken back a little."

"Obviously there was a little bit of outrage," his father, Dr. Nathan Berry, a board certified anesthesiologist, said. "They didn't give him an explanation really except that he needed a diploma that was certified or he could take the GED, which is an equivalency test, which really demeans everything that we had done and put into our boys as far as education."

An 'Unfortunate Mistake'

CBN News spoke with Stephens. She declined our request for an on-camera interview but called what happened with Berry an unfortunate mistake.

She pointed out that federal funding regulations can be difficult to understand and sees what happened as a much-needed lesson.

Attorney Mike Donnelly, with the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, said homeschoolers in West Virginia self-certify completion of a home education in compliance with federal guidelines, so they don't need an accredited diploma.

After pressure from HSLDA and other homeschool advocates, Berry was eventually reinstated at the college. But some believe what happened is just one example of the growing pressures homeschoolers face across the country.

"The college president called Jacob Berry and said that he could come back to school," Donnelly explained.

"It's a great success story but it shouldn't ever happen. Just shows that still there are people out there who don't understand homeschooling," he said.

New Legislation Needed

Still, regulations for homeschooling vary from state to state and from district to district. In Hampton, Virginia, for example, families who homeschool for religious reasons must file a religious exemption. It requires that children who are taught at home provide a notarized, philosophical and theological argument about their beliefs.

Donnelly called that unfair.

"This whole idea that children separate from their parents should get a notarized form saying what their religious beliefs are is simply wrong," Donnelly said.

Homeschool advocates want legislation that provides protection from measures that discriminate against homeschoolers.
 
West Virginia Delegate Brian Kurcaba, R-51st District, sponsored a new law that prohibits cases similar to Berry's.

Debate on the bill took place about the same time Berry was kicked off campus.

"This came up right in the middle of everything and fortunately we were able to pass that legislation," Kurcaba said. "Now families can offer the diploma."

"It's absolutely fantastic and the legislation also says that no state agency and no state institution of higher learning may discriminate," Donnelly explained. "That law would have helped Jacob Berry but it will also make it much easier for homeschooled students in West Virginia."

Positive Impact

Meanwhile, Berry's parents agree that the school's president was just misinformed about federal guidelines concerning acceptance of students who are homeschooled.

They are hopeful that the takeaway from their son's story reaches beyond West Virginia.

"It will have an effect on other states and other situations that see the unfairness of the situation with Jacob and maybe it will have a positive impact for homeschoolers throughout the country," Dr. Berry said.

As for Jacob Berry, he's just happy to be back in class and he is looking forward to graduation in May of 2016.

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