Hiding behind home schooling: The reason some Oklahoma children are missing out on an education

TULSA - The 2NEWS Investigators are taking a deeper look at home schooling in Oklahoma where there are no formal regulations for in-home education.

There are no tests, diplomas or requirements, and some kids could be left behind.

Mom Angela McGinnis told 2NEWS she used home schooling to teach all three of her kids at one point during their education.

"A lot of these kids come out of home school at a way higher rate than what somebody comes out of public school," said McGinnis.

She said home schooling provides a unique opportunity to tailor education to your child.

"I know so many parents who home school and do such an amazing job. And they don't need the testing and they don't need the state requirements, but there are so many on the other side that do," said McGinnis.

She said those parents and families hide behind the freedoms provided by Oklahoma laws.

"Here in Oklahoma, if you say 'my child is home schooled' that's it. They can't follow up. DHS can not come in the home. Truancy officers can not come to check on them," said McGinnis.

It's a problem she said she sees in the neighborhood where she works.  She's a property manager in the area of 61st and Peoria.

It's a part of town 2NEWS has covered a lot and not for good reasons.  Tulsa police say it has one of the highest crime rates in the city.

"Growing up with brothers, uncles, fathers that are all gang members and they are involved in a lot of drug activity crime, things like that and that's what they are learning," said McGinnis.

Verdell Walker lives in the area of 61st and Peoria.  He knows a lot of kids who are or were home schooled and he's seen some of the consequences.

"It's kind of upsetting. I feel like kids should all get an education, that's the key to life," said Walker.

He also knows what it's like.

"I was in home schooling for a couple of years," said Walker.

He said it was tough.  He did end up with his GED but says he has friends who didn't and wound up asking for money on the streets.

"It was sad to see that, that he didn't have the right guidance to get out of there because he wasn't taught right at home schooling, he was taught by his mom too," said Walker.

Under the law, there are no requirements for parents in order to home school. There are no tests or diplomas. It is unlawful to neglect or refuse a child's attendance to school or learning institution unless "other means" are provided, those other means could be home schooling. That instruction is provided "in good faith."

Elana Grissom has a Ph.D. in psychology focusing on at risk youth.  She's also spent time working in juvenile affairs. She said she knows why people do this.

"A lot of times, the parents who have elected to pull their kids out of school under the guise of homes schooling are parents who have a lot of mental health, drug abuse types of issues," said Grissom.

She said it may be easier than forcing their child to go to school, and they don't have to deal with the consequences.

"Because our laws are non-existent regarding home schooling, there is nothing to prosecute," said Grissom.

She said she's seen parents and students use it to drop out.

"But it doesn't show up on the district's paperwork, the family is happy, the school isn't in a bind with having that drop-out number and life goes on," said Grissom.

The Oklahoma Department of Education does not keep track of home schooled students. There are no official records of their failures, but there is some on their success.

According to homeschooling.org , there are about 675,000 school age kids in the state and nearly 20,000 are home schooled.

Thousands do go on to higher education.

"If home schooling had a reputation for producing poor students, poor citizens, all kinds of issues, I might understand that concern," said Paul Rose, a home schooling parent and a representative for OCHEC, the Oklahoma Christian Home Educators Consociation.

He believes the system is fine just the way it is.

"We will resist any form of regulation to home schooling families," said Rose.

"It sounds harsh, but this idea of 'if it only saves one child or it only helps one child, we would give up all of our freedoms', that's not consistent with the founding of our country," he said.

Angela McGinnis just wants to make sure the kids she sees are not left behind.

"They're not given the opportunities that the other kids are and I think that the state shelters them from that," said McGinnis.

OCHEC goes to the Capitol every year, asking Oklahoma lawmakers to do nothing when it comes to home school laws.

Currently there are no proposed laws to change the requirements.

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