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Originally published Wednesday, November 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Education

Some home-schoolers shun shared campus

The home-school program in the Edmonds School District lost almost a quarter of its students over the past year in the wake of the district's...

Times Snohomish County Bureau

The home-school program in the Edmonds School District lost almost a quarter of its students over the past year in the wake of the district's decision to relocate its alternative high school to the same campus as the home-school program.

According to district figures, enrollment fell from 498 in October 2006 to 381 when school started this past September at the Edmonds Homeschool Resource Center, which provides classes and support to families who primarily educate their children at home.

Parents who left the program say they were angered by the district's refusal to consider another location for Scriber Lake High School, the district's alternative high school of about 200 students and its Options intervention program, helping about 50 students from seventh through 12th grade transition back to their home schools or to Scriber Lake.

Home-school parents were concerned about student safety, particularly for elementary students in the program.

"They voted with their feet. They felt fear and they felt betrayed," said Anne-Marie Lake, a parent who elected to keep her two children enrolled in the home-school program.

Lake and other parents who stayed, as well as principals at the two schools, say the shift to a shared campus has been largely trouble-free. Enrollment is climbing again and is currently at 426. And security measures appear to have minimized conflicts. The two schools have separate entrances and separate parking lots, and there are frequent campus patrols.

"It's working better than anybody expected," said Lake.

The separation is so complete, in fact, that some teens at the two schools are hoping for more interaction.

"They're kids like us. If we could hang out with them, that would be cool," said Garrett Spesock, an eighth-grader in the home-school program.

Last year, the district announced plans to relocate Scriber Lake High School for at least two years to the former Woodway High School campus in South Edmonds. The move is part of the district's overall property-management strategy that includes building a new administrative and transportation center at the former Scriber Lake site in Lynnwood and eventually moving the alternative high school into a redesigned administration building next to Edmonds Community College.

Parents at the home-school center held angry meetings last fall and went before the School Board to protest plans to share a campus with the alternative high school. They cited police calls to the alternative school that included two incidents involving weapons and five involving drugs. One family unsuccessfully sued the district, saying it hadn't adequately notified parents about the proposed move.

The district took several steps over the summer to keep students at each school separate. The schools have their own entrances, lunchrooms and libraries. A common gym is partitioned down the center, and doors at the home-school center are locked on the Scriber side.

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Concerns were so great about Scriber students potentially intimidating or otherwise disturbing home-school students that windows between the two schools were frosted.

"It's like we're living in the same house, but we don't talk to each other and we don't see each other. It's not normal," said Lindsey Webb, a ninth-grader at the home-school center.

Danny Rock, who took over as principal of the Homeschool Resource Center during the summer, said some parents have voiced concern about the alternative-high-school students, but none have reported any incidents.

He said older students have asked about joint activities such as basketball or volleyball, but administrators want to make sure the current operations are smooth and safe before they try to introduce the two communities.

"Before we do anything like that, we'd talk to all parents and make sure anything was on a strictly voluntary basis," Rock said.

At Scriber Lake High School, principal Kathy Clift said the staff provides "plenty of supervision" for students at the beginning and end of the day when they're most likely to meet home-school families. The school added a former Edmonds police officer to provide campus security, and to date there has been only one police call to arrest a student with drug paraphernalia.

Clift notes that it was Scriber officials who made the call.

The security officer, Fred Bonallo, said it's appropriate to shelter elementary students at the home-school center from high-school kids' "language and craziness." He said he also relies on nearby merchants to let him know if Scriber students are out of line when they leave the campus.

But overall, Bonallo said, "The steps taken to minimize conflicts have worked very well."

Scriber students say they're aware of the controversy and the perceptions of alternative-high-school students as dropouts and drug users. Elizabeth Leslie, a junior and the school's student representative to the district School Board, said if it were Edmonds-Woodway sharing the campus with the home-school students, parents would "focus on the good students, not the bad. It's the opposite for us. Every school has kids with problems."

Katie Foster, a senior and former Scriber ASB treasurer, said students choose Scriber because of its small classes and a high level of teacher and staff support.

"A lot of us felt like outcasts at our old school. Here, everybody knows everybody. We're on a first-name basis with our teachers. There's equal respect. I'm graduating because of Scriber."

In the midst of the controversy last year, home-school math teacher Nancy Chang took a group of middle- and high-school students to Scriber to interview the alternative students for a video. What they found, she said, were teenagers a lot like themselves.

"We have a small school, they have a small school. We're an alternative program, they're an alternative program." Chang said the kids concluded, "They're probably more like us than kids from any other school."

The Scriber students invited the home-school teens back for a luncheon catered by their culinary-arts class.

But since moving to the same campus, there hasn't been any mixing.

Kal Taylor, a home-school parent, reacted to news about the two campuses merging last year by volunteering to mentor a Scriber Lake student, Mila Hunter. Taylor said it upset her that some parents were responding from fear and not knowledge. What she found at Scriber, she said, was a dedicated staff and high standards for student conduct.

Taylor reviewed all of the measures taken to protect the students from each other and said, "Right now, the walls are up. We're hoping the walls come down."

Lynn Thompson: 425-745-7807 or lthompson@seattletimes.com

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