Erica Parsons - Homeschool rules not always enforced
By: Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — North Carolina doesn’t have records of Erica Parsons’ home schooling, an official said Wednesday, because her family didn’t have to submit them.
Chris Mears, a spokesman with the Department of Non-Public Education (DNPE), said home schools are required to keep certain records but not to regularly report them to the state.
“We request that they submit standardized test scores for students, but they’re not required to,” Mears said. “They have to conduct the test, but they don’t have to submit proof to us.”
According to the law, home schooling families like the Parsonses must make certain records available for annual inspection if asked by a representative of the state.
As of Wednesday, though, the only document that the DNPE holds from the missing girl’s home school is an “official non-public school registration record.”
That document, also known as a notice of intent, states that “Parson’s Christian School” opened on Nov. 21, 2005. It is listed as a religious school, located at 218 Miller Chapel Road in Salisbury, with Erica’s mother Casey as the chief administrator.
The document does not name Erica or her siblings.
Erica was reported missing July 30 by her adoptive brother, James. Her adoptive parents, Casey and Sandy Parsons, said they have not seen her since November 2011 or heard from her since February 2012.
They said the girl, then 13 years old, went to live with her biological grandmother, Irene “Nan” Goodman, in Asheville. Goodman told them that a neighbor was tutoring Erica at home, they said.
It’s not clear whether the woman called “Nan” or her unnamed neighbor filed documents with the state. Law enforcement officials have said they have no proof that Goodman even exists, and family members told them that Erica’s biological paternal grandmother has been dead for five years.
School officials have said Erica was never enrolled in the Rowan-Salisbury School System.
According to state law, parents or guardians who live in North Carolina and want to homeschool their children between the ages of 7 and 16 must:
• Hold at least a high school diploma or its equivalent;
• Send to the DNPE a notice of intent to operate a home school;
• Elect to operate as a religious or non-religious school;
• Operate the school on a regular schedule for at least nine calendar months, excluding reasonable holidays and vacations;
• Make and maintain the school disease immunization and annual attendance records for each student;
• Have a nationally standardized achievement test (there are several to choose from) administered annually to each student; and
• Notify the DNPE when the school is no longer in operation.
There is no public evidence that Parson’s Christian School is still operating.
“We do make contact via email with the schools once a year requesting any sort of notice that they no longer intend to operate,” Mears said. “We haven’t received anything from them.”
Mears said state personnel make regional visits once every two or three years. Home schooling families are given the option to meet with them for a review, but those meetings are not mandatory.
He said the DNPE has not specifically requested records from the Parsons family. They are included in a standing request of all home schools to send their standardized test results, he said.
“State law requires us to do certain things, and we follow the law,” Mears said. “Beyond that, it’s just not our area of oversight.”
When asked who would be responsible for enforcing that law, he replied, “I don’t know. That’s beyond our area of control.”
Dennis Welch, of China Grove, serves as co-vice president of the Rowan County Home School Association along with his wife, Laura.
He said he doesn’t know of a local home schooling family that has been visited by the state, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.
“At any time, they can audit you,” Welch said. “If you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do, they can revoke your status as a home school.”
Welch said his family keeps detailed records of how many days the children attend school, their immunizations and their nationally standardized test scores. They keep these files not only to meet the state requirements, but also to make sure their children will have what they need to go to college.
Another Home School Association board member, Brenda Smith, also said her family was told they could be audited to make sure they are complying with state law. This hasn’t happened to the Rockwell resident, though.
“All the families I’m in touch with in our association are very serious about educating their children,” Smith said. “These questions come up every year - How do we comply? Are we doing enough for our kids?”
Smith said she has not met or heard of the Parsons family before, but there are many people who homeschool in Rowan County who aren’t affiliated with a group.
Smith started home schooling her children when one of her sons asked to be pulled out of school in the sixth grade, she said. Two others then asked to do the same. Now, one still in the home school, another is starting eighth grade at North Hills Christian School and the remaining two have graduated.
“We are a Christian family, and I can pass my values on to my kids this way,” Smith said.
She also said homeschooling helps families set their own schedules, be more flexible with travel plans, be creative and avoid bullying.
Welch said his and his wife’s four children are all homeschooled, and the oldest is going into fifth grade this year.
“We want to be able to teach our child at her level, at her pace, with the Christian moral values that we have,” Welch said.
He said some of the publicity surrounding the Parsons case is “distorting what home schooling is” and giving it a bad reputation. Welch said it’s possible that some neglect to educate their children properly or follow the state’s requirements. But he doesn’t think that’s the norm.
“I know lots of home schooling families in our association that are very responsible, and they do their best to raise their kids in a way where they don’t hold their kids back,” Welch said. “They teach them what they need to learn so they can be responsible adults.”