An unregulated Louisiana group for Christian homeschoolers sells diplomas for $465
The diplomas are not state-approved and hold no intrinsic value
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A few years ago, a former homeschooled student posted her high school transcript online for everyone to see. Her grades were stellar… but, as she quickly explained, she hadn’t actually earned any of them.
Cynthia Jeub and her 15 siblings were featured on a season of the TLC show Kids By the Dozen back in 2007. Since then, Jeub has written extensively—and very honestly—about growing up in a “quiverfull” household and the problems that arose when she questioned or challenged her family’s fundamentalist Christianity. One aspect of that lifestyle was getting homeschooled.
That in itself isn’t unusual in those kinds of Christian homes—and homeschooling isn’t necessarily bad as long as kids are actually getting a decent education. (More on that in a moment.)
Jeub wanted to let everyone know she hadn’t received a decent education. That’s why she showed people her grades:
At first glance, that looks impressive. It’s a little odd that she’s taking classes in “Basic Sewing” and “Survival/Hunter’s Safety” and volunteering as a “child counselor”… but still! Look at that GPA!
Jeub’s explanation, however, offered surprising context:
Below is the actual high school transcript that I designed and wrote myself based on a template I found on Google, and asked my parents to sign. The first thing to note is that I had never been graded on anything, and knew only that I needed to be realistic while getting as close to a 4.0 score as possible. When I presented it to my dad, he asked why I hadn’t put down 4.0 in everything, and I said it didn’t seem realistic to me. I knew I hadn’t taught myself math very well, though I’d tried to work my way to the answers on my own. Every grade is not even a guess, but a blatant lie, because I never had grades. I just needed to write something that looked like I had.
It was all a lie. The grades didn’t reflect her understanding of the subjects or her work ethic. It was just a form she filled out on a whim, which her parents then approved, so she could have something to show strangers down the road.
Jeub eventually went to a community college, where she (obviously) struggled at first. It took years for her to find out what holes existed in her “education.” It’s honestly incredible that she was able to eventually fill many of those gaps to the point where she could write about it all so eloquently.
The point is: This is what can happen when homeschooling goes unregulated. Without any checks from the government, there are parents who would deprive their children of a well-rounded, rudimentary education, often in favor of some kind of gender-based, Bible-heavy nonsense. (We’ve seen similar moves in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, too.)
And now there’s a new example of just how low these Christian communities can sink to trick people into believing they’re offering a valid alternative to public education.
In a shocking article by Sharon Lurye of the Associated Press, we learn that the Springfield Preparatory School, an “umbrella school for Christian homeschoolers,” is literally selling diplomas to anyone who wants them for $465 a pop.
The Louisiana school run by Kitty Sibley Morrison has no problem stamping its name on diplomas for homeschooling parents who request them… even when there’s no indication the students have earned them. While some students take classes through her organization, others don’t, and she doesn’t bother verifying any of it.
She’s able to get away with this because Louisiana has remarkably pathetic laws when it comes to oversight of children who are homeschooled.
Unlike public schools, formal homeschooling programs or traditional private schools, nearly 9,000 private schools in Louisiana don’t need state approval to grant degrees. Nearly every one of those unapproved schools was created to serve a single homeschooling family, but some have buildings, classrooms, teachers and dozens of students.
… Over 21,000 students are enrolled in the state’s unapproved schools, nearly double the number from before the pandemic, according to data obtained through a public records request by the AP and The Advocate, a partner news outlet in Louisiana.
There is no way for the government to verify safety, quality or even whether a school exists, said Laura Hawkins, a former state Department of Education official who worked on its school choice efforts up to 2020.
Some of those kids are likely receiving a fine, quality education. The problem is that the same conservative Christians pushing for less government regulation in this area don’t give a shit about how many kids fall through the cracks. Rather than making sure there’s even a base level of accountability, these right-wing activists want no outside oversight whatsoever.
And lawmakers are allowing them to do it.
In Louisiana, homeschooling families can receive a state-recognized diploma by submitting test scores or a student’s work to prove that kid has achieved some measure of education. Those diplomas, like those from public schools, are then generally recognized by colleges and allow students to apply for certain scholarships.
But the state also gives parents the option of doing nothing. Don’t get state approval. Don’t submit any test scores. You can set up a “private school” but you don’t have to tell the state who’s attending it. Sure, the kids won’t get a state-sanctioned diploma, but by the time they realize their homemade alternative is no more valuable than toilet paper, it’ll be too late for them to do anything about it.
Because of this lax oversight in Louisiana and elsewhere, there have been stories of sexual abuse and doctored records. But far more frequent are stories of children who only think they’re getting an education when they’re receiving no such thing.
This is all happening because conservative Christians pushed for this change:
Louisiana’s unapproved private schools came into being in 1980 when Christian ministers who ran small private schools joined forces with the budding homeschool movement to push for the deregulation of private education. Lawmakers eliminated the requirement for private schools to have at least 50 students and state-certified teachers.
Opponents have tried on multiple occasions to get the law repealed but faltered in the face of lobbying efforts from Christian homeschool groups.
Today, over a dozen states allow families to open a private school as a form of homeschooling, including California, Illinois and Texas, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association. Around half the states require those schools to teach basic subjects such as math and reading; Louisiana isn’t one of them.
The AP story features one woman who dropped out of high school and never earned her GED… but paid for a diploma from Sibley Morrison, hoping that it would open some doors (at least if no one bothered to confirm that the diploma was legit).
But even then, there’s reason to believe her diploma was fraudulent:
The document was backdated to 2015, when she would have graduated high school. It also said she had completed a program for graduation “approved by the Louisiana Board of Education,” which isn’t true. After inquiries from AP, Sibley Morrison said there had been a mistake and that the document would be corrected.
Signs at the school advertise “state-approved” diplomas, even though the state has not approved anything about the school. Sibley Morrison says she can use those words because she encourages each family in her program to simultaneously sign up for the state-approved home study program.
Angela Grimberg, the executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, pointed out Louisiana law states that parents who want state approval must apply within 15 days of starting homeschooling. Backdating a diploma that claims to be state-approved would thus be “fraudulent,” Grimberg said.
There’s no reason to believe Louisiana lawmakers or the attorney general will have the courage to take action. They’re beholden to their Christian base and lobbying groups like the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) which put “parents’ rights” over the well-being of children.
The fact that Christian homeschooling groups typically reject even some bare minimum measure of accountability just shows how little they care about kids. None of these stories matter to them because they’re hell-bent on staying off the grid as much as possible, falsely believing that any kind of government intervention is inherently evil. They’re unbothered and unmoved by the stories from formerly homeschooled kids who say they were not prepared for life outside their home—and that their peers from public schools were leaps and bounds ahead of them, academically and emotionally, when they met them in college.
Earlier this year, the Washington Post published a lengthy profile of Christina and Aaron Beall, both products of conservative Christian home-schooling. Christina even graduated from Patrick Henry College, a school founded by Michael Farris, the same guy who began the Home School Legal Defense Association.
Despite their conservative Christian upbringing, they chose to enroll their daughter in a public school… and it turned out to be great. Their first-grader fit in and adjusted to her new environment. Her teacher loved her. She made new friends. Her reading skills improved. More importantly, the Bealls saw first-hand that she wasn’t being led astray by liberal “groomers.”
“People who think the public schools are indoctrinating don’t know what indoctrination is. We were indoctrinated,” Aaron says. “It’s not even comparable.”
The article noted that any doubts they had about public school were “usually silenced by their wonder and gratitude at the breadth of their children’s education.”
This is what educators and public school supporters have been saying for years. The best public schools expose kids to a wider array of knowledge, and a variety of people, they probably would never find inside a conservative Christian bubble. They are heavily regulated. They have standards. If kids begin falling through the cracks, there are systems in place to help them out.
Public schools, like all institutions, have flaws. They aren’t and shouldn’t be immune from criticism. But the Christian Right has spent decades lying about the extent of those problems to an audience of believers predisposed to hating anything connected to the government. They demonize hard-working teachers and administrators and try to take over school boards in order to replace expertise with right-wing indoctrination.
In theory, though, public schools have plenty of oversight, a transparent curriculum that covers the core subjects (along with specialized elective classes), and a filter to make sure teachers and administrators are certified to do what they do. There are counselors who work on behalf of kids, who can intervene if there’s reason to think a child is being abused. There are programs in place to help kids with special needs. They’re not perfect but, in general, they’re so much better than going at it alone.
Homeschooling can work. There are religious and secular parents who do it very well. But there’s no way to tell if it’s working unless there’s a system in place to verify it. We’ve seen religious communities fail at this time and time again. By opposing any and all forms of regulation, groups like HSLDA have allowed abusive behavior, both physical and educational, to remain hidden from public view. It’s grossly irresponsible.
There’s simply no way to have a serious discussion about homeschooling in the United States without bringing up how conservative Christians have used it to shelter their own kids, deprive them of vital information, and unfairly disparage public schools.
And now we have yet another example of their bad behavior in action: Much like right-wing pastors offered to sign religious exemptions to the COVID vaccine for anyone who requested them (or made a donation), we have a Christian activist selling fake high school diplomas to anyone willing to fork over some cash.
The victims are ultimately the children who are led to believe they’re getting an education.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)