Parents lined outside Camas alternative school

Relocation will result in half as many courses, seats for next school year



CAMAS — A line of parents snaked outside the Camas Church of the Nazarene early Friday, as River HomeLink adherents scrambled to keep children enrolled next year in a sharply downsized, relocated version of the popular alternative school.

They awoke in the wee hours to come. Some shared rides, like normal. One mother drove the 30 miles from North Bonneville, same as always.

Some never went home: They staked their place as early as noon Thursday for the first-come, first-serve, on-the-fly scheduling of classes for 2011-12, starting anew at the Battle Ground Public Schools CASEE Center in Brush -Prairie.

One family hauled in a sofa to ease the tense wait.

All typified extreme devotion to the hybrid “parent-partner” program, which offers core curriculum courses and dozens of enrichment classes to home-school students in grades K-12, many whose parents serve as volunteers.

“I’ll do anything for my kids, and this is the best for them,” said Becky Nelson, Washougal mother of two primary grade students, one with learning difficulty. “I’ll do whatever it takes.”

By mid-morning, it looked good for Nelson to secure those desired classes.

Not so much for many middle- or high school pupils. Groans and sighs went out when HomeLink staff announced a few more closed class sections.

Given new state funding cuts for -alternative programs, a long-held Battle Ground district goal to move the second of two HomeLink bases to home turf and new availability of rent-free space at the CASEE “C” Building at district headquarters, leaders launched the relocation.

That decision came in the past two weeks, after parents thought they’d already secured next year’s class seats.

Problem is, the CASEE space has room only for six classrooms, and about as many teachers, to serve the equivalent of 200 full-time students. That’s down from 14 rooms, 21 teachers and at least 430 full-time students, now.

And so, Friday’s rush to grab precious slots in dozens fewer class offerings.

“It’s so well worth it. The staff is amazing,” said Debby Connors, also of Washougal. She saw her eighth-grade son’s chances evaporate and began to gauge options. She’ll probably place him on a wait list, hoping the new campus can grow soon if more CASEE space comes free, she said.

“It’s been a hardship. We’ll have to make some real decisions,” Connors said.

She and others heaped praise on HomeLink faculty, the creative spark ignited in students, a culture of respect across the breadth of teens and youngsters that fosters a wholly supportive, one-room schoolhouse feel.

That’s why this week’s news hit so hard.

“It’s felt like a death in the family. This is an insult to their education,” said Stacey Hewitt, mother of one student. She carpooled with Nelson, arriving about 4:30 a.m.

Said Connors, “Public school won’t be an option, for me. I won’t put them back in that environment.”

In sum, 259 current students were enrolled Friday for next year, a district spokesman said. (The hard way: Paper schedule requests logged in and cross-checked by one registrar.)

It will take a few days to calculate FTEs. No new students are being accepted. Children of school employees and long-term parent volunteers got first shot at open slots, one day earlier.

Despite the anxiety, emotions stayed in check during the long morning, parents and staff said.

It was “tough” for mothers and fathers to feel pitted against one another, where “community” is the norm, said Connors and others. “We love each other, and we want the best for each other,” Connors said.

Some parents thwarted on Friday, or for whom a lengthy commute doesn’t work — the CASEE center is nearly 18 miles and 30 minutes north of the church — may organize an independent cooperative that retains the HomeLink spirit.

Others want the Camas or Washougal school district to step up with a similar home-based class program. But those districts indicate little interest in taking on new duties. They do expect some displaced students to register for online programs, a few perhaps trickling back into mainstream classes.

That’s not for dedicated HomeLink parents, however.

Quincy Anderson, the North Bonneville mother, will drive her sixth-grade son, Magnus, one hour to Brush Prairie at least twice weekly, the district spokesman said.

Her resolve is not unique.

“It says something that people are willing to make that kind of drive, in this economy,” said Kimberly Caniglia, Washougal mother of two HomeLink teens and two more graduates. “I mean, my Jeep just sucks gas,” she said, with a grimace.

Howard Buck: 360-735-4515 or