STOP SIGN: I.D.E.A. Virtual Charter School Concerns

By Res Peters

Honest Abe. He walked a mile to return a penny. Fact or folklore, our children learn from his example the value of integrity. For Honest Abe, his integrity was not to be sold for a mere penny.

He could not tell a lie. Our first president is reputed to have valued truth over painful consequences. Sadly, our forty-second president valued consequences over truth. Our children learn from both.

It has been observed that character is revealed in what is done while no one is looking. I might obey the speed limit when my children are present. But the true test of my integrity is what I do at the stop sign when no one is around. If my compliance is based upon looking over my shoulder, then my action lacks integrity. And because I cannot be utterly covert in my duplicity, my hypocrisy is learned by my children.

Over the past few weeks, home educators have been courted by the new public virtual charter school, the Idaho Distance Education Academy (I-DEA). In addition to financial incentives, parents have been told that if they purchase faith-based materials with their own funds, they could use them as part of the instructional program of their children enrolled in this home-based public school.

However, the state in its Legal Sufficiency Review has expressed "grave concern that the parents of potential students in the Idaho Distance Learning Academy (I-DEA) have been misled on this issue." Idaho Code section 33-1603 provides that:

"No sectarian or denominational doctrine shall be taught in the public schools, nor shall any books, tracts, papers, or documents of sectarian or denominational character be used therein."

Based on the Idaho Constitution and Idaho Code, the letter continues, "The use of faith-based materials as part of the instructional program in any Idaho public school is clearly prohibited."

The state's conclusion? "The administration and staff of the I-DEA must ensure that no faith-based materials or religious doctrine is part of the public school education received by the students enrolled in the public charter school called the Idaho Distance Education Academy."

IDEA's response as stated in a public meeting addressing this issue? "I might twist the code to help kids." Solutions offered ranged from declining to specify the texts used for teaching, to considering the state-funded computer as part of the home for general use. The ethic? The end justifies the means.

But what is the "end" for I-DEA? At $4,500 per student enrolled, additional staff, buildings, and services for a small, rural district, and high test scores from former privately home educated students. In Alaska, $5.6 million in federal tax funds to another remote district, catalyzed by IDEA. And for WWIDEA, the parent "non-profit" company in Montana, $459 of Idaho tax funds for each student enrolled.

Clearly, the home educator is at the stop sign. The ethic of integrity is at odds with the tenet that the end justifies the means. Will he accept and then use the computer for non-public school instruction? Will a mother of faith continue to teach her doctrinal convictions in her now public school class? Will she fail to fully list the texts from which she teaches them? And as the children watch, what will they learn? To look over their shoulder, or to stop when no one is looking.

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