- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2001

Courting a homeless education

I am afraid Michelle Malkins May 22 Commentary column, "Home schooling under siege," misses the boat.

Ms. Malkin´s column appears to support Home School Legal Defense Association attorney Scott Somerville in his assertion that the Simmons case smacks clearly of anti-parent, anti-Catholic bias and that "if were Protestant or secular, there would be no problem." Unfortunately, Mr. Somerville is wrong. In fact, his willingness to bend the truth in order to win converts to his position is one reason why the HSLDA is viewed with skepticism by many home-schoolers.

I am a veteran Maryland home-schooler, and I coordinate a local e-mail list consisting of more than 250 Baltimore-Washington-area home-schoolers. The list is unaffiliated with any religious group, though a number of our members are Catholic and use Catholic curricula. We have been discussing this case, and no one I know sees it as an indication of anti-Catholic bias. I also have been in touch with the leading Maryland Catholic home-school support group; one of its representatives tells me that that group also does not see anti-Catholic bias in this case or in its members´ own home-schooling experiences.

To understand this case, one must first be aware that Maryland´s home-schooling law (not county law) requires that home-schoolers submit to supervision in one of three ways:

• Enrollment in a state-approved correspondence school.

• Portfolio review by one´s county school board.

• Portfolio review by a state-approved church-affiliated review group.

Mary Simmons is being taken to court simply because she refused to comply with any of the above options. All of the above-mentioned discussants, including those using Catholic curricula, agree that had Mrs. Simmons chosen the second option (portfolio review by her county school board), she likely would have "passed" easily. Had she preferred to have her portfolio reviewed by a religious group (the third option), several readily would have accepted her curriculum.

Thus, Mrs. Simmons is being taken to court not because she is using a Catholic curriculum, but because she is in clear violation of state law. This is not a case of religious discrimination, but a test case in which Mrs. Simmons appears to be attempting to change state law.

Under the existing law, the Howard County Board of Education had no alternative but to take Mrs. Simmons to court. Otherwise, it itself would have been in violation of the law.

There is no indication that there is any religious bias in the state´s approval of correspondence schools (the first option). No one is claiming that Mrs. Simmons´ correspondence program, Our Lady of the Rosary, has ever requested state approval. Nor has any other Catholic correspondence school requested state approval to the best of my knowledge. Nor are there any allegations of Catholic bias (or other religious bias) in the state´s approval of church-affiliated review groups (the third option).

I do not intend to be an apologist for Maryland´s home-schooling law. One legitimately may debate whether and how the state should supervise home-schoolers. To imply that this is a case of religious discrimination, however, is encouraging your readers to tilt at windmills. The Catholicism of Mrs. Simmons´ curriculum has nothing to do with the issues at hand. If we frighten people into fighting battles that don´t exist, we lose credibility and dissipate energy that is needed for any of a number of genuine battles.


Columbia, Md.

Anglers are marshing towards protecting the arena

As an Alexandria resident, I am concerned with the National Park Services proposal to close Belle Haven Marina ("Save Belle Haven Marina," Op-Ed, May 8). I am a conservationist, environmentalist, naturalist and teacher. I also am an angler who greatly enjoys the facility at Belle Haven, an affordable, family oriented, community-based access point for fishing and enjoying the river.

As a naturalist working in a wetland sanctuary, I fully understand how fragile and valuable a wetland is to wildlife and the environment. However, the dangers facing most wetlands do not come from the waterside, but from non-point sources inland. Precautions already are in place for the protection of the adjacent Dyke Marsh from motorized watercraft. For example, a no-wake zone has been established and dispensing of fuel from the marina is not allowed.

Friends of Dyke Marsh should look at boaters as the eyes and ears of the riverside of the marsh. We fishermen and boaters also enjoy and wish to protect the fragile environment. We can help by calling attention to things we see from the waterside looking in. The boats also are not a danger to the marsh.

In fact, increased fishing from the shore would be detrimental to the marsh. Shore fishing increases littering of the marsh, with items such as bait containers, cans, bottles and fishing line. On the other hand, the boaters I know are all very environmentally conscious.

Money should not even be an issue in the decision whether to close the marina. The money is out there it´s just a matter of tapping into the right sources. For instance, the park service could increase the ramp fee by $1 and put that money into a fund. Donations, grants and bonds are another source. Or, perhaps, it should issue a special license to fish in National Park Service waters, much like the special stamp for fishing in National Forest Service waters.

The park service should look closely at the alternatives to closing the marina. Belle Haven Marina, like Dyke Marsh, is a jewel worth protecting.



NWF is not the WWF

Outdoor writer Fred Bonner and your Outdoors section columnist, Gene Mueller misrepresented the commitment that the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has to hunters, anglers and conservation-minded people throughout the country ("Writer/biologist slams addition of Clark to Wildlife Federation," Sports, May 16). The National Wildlife Federation and its state affiliates play a lead role in bringing conservation issues to the forefront and work cooperatively with others in the conservation community to address the needs of Americas wildlife and natural areas.

As director of a state fish and wildlife agency and former president of the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, I have worked closely with the National Wildlife Federation on many conservation issues. Under the leadership of President Mark Van Putten, the National Wildlife Federation has improved its partnership with state fish and wildlife agencies and has taken an active role in promoting federal legislation aimed at creating a permanent funding source for conservation and wildlife-related education and recreation. In Georgia, we enjoy a strong working relationship with the NWF´s state affiliate, the Georgia Wildlife Federation, and we often work alongside it on conservation initiatives that benefit hunters and anglers as well as other wildlife enthusiasts.

By offering scientifically sound, common-sense approaches to difficult issues, the National Wildlife Federation unites people of differing perspectives hunters and non-hunters, Republicans and Democrats alike behind conservation policies that serve their common interest in safeguarding and restoring wildlife and its habitats. Real progress demands the kind of common-ground cooperation that the National Wildlife Federation has brought to the cause of conservation for more than 65 years.



Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division

Social Circle, Ga.

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