Homeschool Pioneers Ron and Nancy Shuler

Homeschool Pioneers Ron and Nancy Shuler

Homeschool pioneers Ron and Nancy Shuler blazed a trail for Iowa home educators like us.

They were among the parents who started teaching their children at home in Iowa in the 1970s and 1980s when the idea of homeschooling was novel and viewed by most authorities as illegal.

Ron and Nancy’s “pioneer” adventures in Iowa homeschooling were highlighted in the now-yellowed pages of the February 19, 1984 Picture magazine, a supplement to The Des Moines Sunday Register.

The photograph on the publication's front page showed the family standing in the wood-framed doorway to the schoolroom of their rented Muscatine home.

The father, Ronnie, was tall, dark, and bearded, wearing a green western shirt. He was a welder at a nearby factory.

The mother, Nancy, was a small, pleasant-looking woman with a beehive hairdo and a lace-trimmed dress. She was a homemaker with one year of college experience.

The three children, freshly scrubbed and gripping their Bibles, stood in front: Jonathan (10), James (9), and Melissa (8).

Homeschool Pioneers Ron and Nancy Shuler: Picture Magazine Memories

Homeschool Pioneer Memories

Other pictures, inside the magazine, showed Nancy and the three children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, doing schoolwork, and playing outside in the snow.

The Shulers had bravely allowed a reporter to visit their home for the day to see what this thing called “homeschooling” was all about.

The reporter noted that the Shuler family was “one of perhaps dozens” who taught their children at home in Iowa at that time. He explained that Ron and Nancy had stopped sending their children to public school in 1982 because they wanted to provide them with a Christ-centered education. They enrolled their children in the Christian Liberty Academy Satellite Program, based in Prospect Heights, Illinois.

During the Shuler’s first year of homeschooling, “a concerned citizen” had notified the Muscatine School District that the children were being taught at home.

As a result, on December 17, 1982, Nancy Shuler received a call from Muscatine School District Superintendent Arthur Sensor. He asked why the Shuler children were not enrolled in school.

Immediately following their phone conversation, Superintendent Sensor drafted a letter requesting that the Shulers provide to the school board a certificate stating the name and age of each child, the period of time each child received private instruction, the name of the instructor, and the details of the private instruction.

Ron and Nancy attempted to comply with this request, and they asked Christian Liberty Academy Satellite Program to provide the school district with information as well.

On January 11, 1983, the Shulers’ names appeared on the front page of the Muscatine Journal in an article headlined “School Board Studies Home Education Cases.”

Exactly one week later, at 8:37 a.m., Mrs. Shuler received a call notifying her that Muscatine School District Superintendent Arthur Sensor would arrive at her house in 30 minutes on an investigatory visit. She respectfully declined to submit to this visit, due to the short notice provided.

On January 25, the Muscatine Journal again mentioned the Shulers. Their differences with the public school officials had not been resolved. The article noted that the Shulers had “contacted a lawyer to fight prosecution.”

Indeed, the Shulers had realized that they needed competent legal counsel. They recalled meeting a Christian attorney from Ames at a church retreat. By mid-January, they had engaged this lawyer, Craig Hastings, to represent them.

Attorney Hastings communicated with Muscatine School District authorities, providing information, and noting that the Shulers had arranged to meet four hours per week with a local homeschooling mother, named Patti Rowe, who was an Iowa certified teacher.

Even after this was done, the superintendent continued to insist that proper paperwork had not been filed and that a certified teacher should be working daily with the Shuler children.

Nancy Shuler recalls
that it was Superintendent Sensor’s opinion
that the certified teacher
should be working with the Shuler children
over seven hours per school day,
the same amount of time
a public schooled child received instruction
from a certified teacher.

Homeschool Pioneers Ron and Nancy Shuler

Legal Threats Began

On February 4, 1983, the Shulers received a letter from Superintendent Sensor stating, “Unless you employ a full-time certified teacher to give your children equivalent instruction or place them in a classroom, I will recommend at the February 14th meeting of the Board that prosecution begin in this case.”

Attorney Hastings responded in a February 8 letter, “I believe [Iowa law governing equivalent instruction is] not as clear and specific as you may think… Mr. and Mrs. Shuler want to live peaceably with the school district, but they cannot compromise their [sincere religious] convictions regarding the education of their children.”

He also sent a letter on February 16 to the school district’s attorney, Mr. Ingham, noting that  “Mr. and Mrs. Shuler had made every effort through our office to negotiate with the school district to provide the information the school district would need to determine that the children are receiving an education” and urging the school district to settle the case out of court.

On March 24, on their son James’ birthday, the Shulers received a letter from County Attorney Stephen Peterson on behalf of the Muscatine School District informing them that they were to have their children enrolled in the school by April 15th or the school board might press criminal charges.

“That boggled my mind
that we would be ‘
for not sending our children to public school,”
remembers Nancy.

Attorney Hastings sent a letter to Attorney Peterson the next day encouraging him to contact School Attorney Ingham to “discuss this with him and review the material I have sent him before you commence prosecution of my clients.”

On March 28, the Muscatine school board confirmed that they would recommend that criminal charges be filed against the Shulers "if Iowa Code compliance statements regarding details of instruction and the name of instructors were not furnished to the school district.”

The Muscatine Journal printed a story on April 20 headlined “Deadline Passes on Home Teaching.”  The article stated that the school board planned to file criminal charges. 

Nancy recalls the anguish she felt
as she read the newspaper story.
Their name was misspelled (“Schuler”)
and the article reported
that the Shulers “haven’t corresponded with the district and haven’t sent their three school-age children to an approved school...”

“No correspondence?”
marvels Nancy as she rereads the article
while sorting through a file
containing copies of  letters
sent back-and-forth
between the Shulers, attorneys, and school officials
between December 1982 and April 1983.

Homeschool Pioneers Ron and Nancy Shuler

Charges Filed

On April 20, 1983, charges were filed against the Shulers, accusing them of violating the state truancy law.

On April 21, 1983, at 2:52 p.m., County Sheriff Oppelt delivered official papers to the Shulers notifying them of the charges and their court date. The penalty for conviction under these misdemeanor charges was a $100 fine and/or 30 days in jail.

Nancy remembers
receiving the papers from the sheriff.
“I thanked him
with a smile on my face
and a prayer in my heart.
From the expression on his face,
I think he thought
that I didn’t know what he was giving me.”

On April 26, 1983, the Shulers posted an unsecured bond for $275.00 ($137.50 each). If the Shulers attempted to flee the state, the bond would be forfeited and the Shulers would automatically face a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.

Nancy recalls the shock of it all:
“My worst fears were coming to pass.
I had never been in trouble with the law before.
I’d never even received a parking ticket.
Now I was facing a criminal trial
and a possible jail term!”

Attorney Hastings sent a letter to School Attorney Ingham on April 27 stating that he believed that the Shulers had complied fully with the law of the state of Iowa with respect to home study. “This single-minded action by the superintendent to take my clients to court strikes me as being the kind of action which our Constitution and the Bill of Rights are intended to protect people against,” wrote Hastings.

He further noted that arrangements like those set up by the Shulers (homeschooling with periodic certified teacher supervision) were operating within the law in at least two other Iowa counties.

On April 28, 1983, Craig Hastings entered a “not guilty” plea for the Shulers.

That same day, the Shulers were ordered to appear before the Court for a trial by jury at 10:00 a.m. on June 29.

Nancy recollects
how she responded to these charges protectively.
The Shuler family had moved in March
to a larger home with a nice yard,
but they decided not to allow their children
to play outside as the court date approached.

The Shulers received a letter from their attorney, Craig Hastings, on June 17 informing them of several developments in the case.

Hastings had requested, and been granted, the waiver of trial by jury. He indicated that the trial date had been moved to June 30 and that he had arranged for both Supervising Teacher Patti Rowe and Christian Liberty Academy director, Rev. Paul Lindstrom, to be available to testify.

Nancy remembers
that the Lindstroms
were planning a vacation in late June,
but had graciously made arrangements
allowing them to come through Muscatine
on the day of the trial.

On the day before the trial, the Shulers invited Attorney Hastings to stay at their home to help keep costs down.

Craig Hastings recalls that,
as he was sitting in the Shuler’s living room
preparing for the case,
Jonathan and James wandered in
and began to converse.

He was immediately impressed
by the maturity and insightfulness
of the two homeschooled boys.

Hastings cites this experience
as one of many that led him
to homeschool his own children.

Throughout the evening before the trial, Nancy Shuler was comforted by Psalm 3.

Lord, how they have increased who trouble me!
Many are they who rise up against me.
Many are they who say of me,
“There is no help for him in God.”
But You, O Lord,
are a shield for me,
my glory and the One who lifts up my head.
I cried to the Lord with my voice,
and He heard me
from His holy hill.
~Psalm 3:1-4

She fell asleep with the reassuring Word:

I lay down and slept;
I awoke, for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.
Arise, O Lord; Save me, O my God!
~Psalm 3:5-7

Homeschool Pioneers Ron and Nancy Shuler

The Trial Began

The next day, Ron and Nancy had to make their way through a crowd of reporters to enter the courtroom. The Shulers made no comments to the media.

Attorney Hastings directed Ron and Nancy to their places in the courtroom at a table directly across from Muscatine Community School Superintendent Sensor.

“I really had to send a prayer heavenward,
as I did not want to become overwhelmed
with fear or animosity,”
recollects Nancy.
She still recalls to this day
the peace that filled her heart at that time.

Ron and Nancy were surprised to see a large number of people in the court gallery, many of whom they did not recognize.

At the noon recess, they discovered that most of these were homeschoolers from across the state who had come to support them.

Nancy shares
that she was filled with gratefulness
for all these supporters,
including the Lindstroms
from Christian Liberty Academy in Illinois.

She asked two neighborhood friends,
Tina Finley and Amy Holtz,
to take Jonathan, James, and Melissa home
and prepare a chicken barbecue dinner for the group.

Nancy recalls that she had a large garden
with lots of fresh produce, 
and she and Ron had just filled their freezer
with chickens they had raised.

Both Nancy Shuler and Supervising Teacher Patti Rowe were called to the stand to testify.

“The Lord was there with me,” recalls Nancy.
“I was not alone,
and one glance at my husband
gave me the encouragement I needed.”

Patty Rowe remembers
fielding a wide variety of questions,
some that seemed rather irrelevant and obscure.
For example,
she was asked to describe
how the Shuler children
received nutritional instruction.

When the court recessed for the day, the Shulers were, once again, met at the door by reporters with cameras and microphones.

“Somehow we were whisked through
and went home to our children
and many new friends
we had not even met
before that day!”
recalls Nancy.

“I was overwhelmed
with all the love, prayers, and support
of these people.
My two friends
had miraculously put together
a bountiful supper.
And, do you know,
years later, both Tina and Amy
homeschooled their children, too!”

Homeschool Pioneers Ron and Nancy Shuler

The Trial Concluded

After a day and a half, the trial was adjourned on July 1, 1983.

For more than six weeks, the Shulers awaited the verdict of the trial.

“We did not know
what the outcome would be,
but at least we still had our children
and we were not in jail.”
Nancy remembers thinking.

At last, on August 16, 1983, the presiding judge issued his ruling, noting the involvement of the Iowa certified teacher in the education of the Shuler children.

Muscatine County District Associate Judge James A. Weaver ruled that he was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the Shulers’ home study program fell short of meeting the requirements of Iowa law.

The Muscatine Community School District was required to pay court costs and attorney fees for the Shulers.

Homeschool Pioneers Ron and Nancy Shuler

Another Round?

Even so, the Shulers continued to be pursued by the Muscatine School District.

As the new school year was just beginning, the Shulers filed a notification and curriculum summary with the Muscatine School District on August 22nd indicating that they would continue homeschooling.

On September 2, Attorney Hastings attempted to contact the new attorney for the Muscatine School District to offer to work with him to negotiate, as the district judge had recommended, “an agreeable arrangement regarding the instruction of the Shuler children.”

On September 12, the Shulers received a letter from the Muscatine school board secretary, Pauline Hart, beginning with these words: “It has come to my attention that you did not enroll your children in the Muscatine Community School System this fall.”

“Oh no, here we go again,”
Nancy recalls saying with a sigh.

Over the next two weeks, correspondence traveled between Attorney Hastings in Ames and Superintendent Sensor in Muscatine. Hastings offered several times to travel to Muscatine to meet with Sensor face-to-face.

Finally, on October 21, the Shulers received from Craig Hastings a copy of a letter sent by Superintendent Sensor. The last sentence read: “The Muscatine Community Board of Education has decided to take no further legal action against the Shulers at this time.”

The October 20 edition of the Muscatine Journal included a small paragraph in the front-page school board story quoting Superintendent Sensor saying that the law governing homeschooling “is antiquated and the lawmakers should make changes.”

Clearly, God’s hand was evident throughout the Shuler’s ordeal.

Attorney Hastings recalls an example.

He was working for the Shulers
on the details of meeting
the Iowa Code’s rather vague reference
to teacher involvement
when a most fortunate event occurred.
A person who knew of the Shulers' situation
called to inform them
of an arrangement occurring
in the Muscatine School District
which might be helpful to their case.

The friendly informant
noted that the school district
offered special provisions
for students
who had to miss
long periods of school
due to illness.
The students’ schoolwork
would be transferred to the parents,
who would instruct the children
with supervision
of a certified teacher
provided by the school district.
This teacher only visited such families
two hours per week
and, furthermore,
the teacher
who was providing this service
was only certified for secondary grades.

After noting this parallel situation,
Attorney Hastings recalls
that Muscatine Public School Superintendent
Arthur Sensor
graciously retreated
from his earlier demands.

Homeschool Pioneers Ron and Nancy Shuler

Challenges Continued

The Shulers' legal battles did indeed end well.

However, it is evident from the 1984 Picture magazine article about the Shulers that the general public was, at that time, still very skeptical about home education, especially concerning socialization.

Here’s a quote from the Picture magazine reporter: “Home teaching simply cannot offer one thing that public school does: Daily contact with a lot of other children.”

Shuler countered that claim, noting that their children did have quality contact with other children – through church, with playmates in the area, and at visits with other homeschoolers.

The reporter probed further, “Do you expect any of your children to go to college?”

Shuler answered, “I have the idea myself that if they want to go, then we’ll do everything we can to help them.”

What Did the Future Hold for the Shulers?

Here are the descriptions given to us by Nancy Shuler in 2008, when we communicated with her to compile this historical article.

Jonathan graduated from Bob Jones University in 1999 with a Bachelor of Science degree in radio & television broadcasting and a minor in engineering. He served as head of engineering in the radio & television department at BJU for four years and then became owner/operator of Insight Productions, an audio-video production company in Greenville, South Carolina. Jonathan then joined ShowCase Marketing Company as Director of Production Services with extensive experience in audio and video recording.

James attended college briefly, joined the Marines, married Brandy, and owned his own tree service in North Carolina. In 2001, his life changed forever when a logging accident left him paralyzed from the neck down with a spinal cord injury. During the year of hospitalization and rehabilitation, his son Jakob was born. James transitioned to working with the youth at his church and learning to care for his needs independently, helping others, as the Lord enabled him, despite his disabilities.

Melissa attended college about 1½ years and then married Matt Thompson. They had four children and eventually followed Matt’s job, living in a fifth wheel mobile home. Melissa tried to be a second-generation homeschooler, but due to severe migraines, their children attended public school. Their whole family received an extensive education as they traveled through and resided in various states.

Ron and Nancy were active in their local church. At the time we wrote the article, Ron was still working at Bandag, Inc. (now Bridgestone). Nancy was giving sewing lessons, teaching quilting classes, and coordinating various community sewing projects through her home-based business, The Stitching Wheel. They had traveled 45 of the 50 United States and parts of Canada on their motorcycle after their children graduated.

Homeschool Pioneers Ron and Nancy Shuler

Thank You, Shulers!

Yes, homeschooling pioneers, Ron and Nancy Shuler, led the way into uncharted territory. They, and many others like them, braved challenges and trials to open the homeschool path for those who followed.

These dedicated men and women devoted themselves to providing a Christ-centered, home-based education for their children and trusted God to bring them through the ensuing perils.

They deserve our recognition and gratitude.

May we follow the examples set by these pioneers, trusting God to lead, guide and protect our home educating families!

"Homeschool Pioneers Ron and Nancy Shuler"
©Julie Naberhaus

Special thanks to:
Nancy Shuler
for providing many documents
and reminiscences for this story;
Craig Hastings,
now deceased,  
for offering his legal services
and for presenting
a Homeschool Iowa Conference workshop
on his memories of 
homeschool and church school court cases;
and to
Laurie Bluedorn
for providing a photocopy
of the 1984
Picture magazine article about the Shulers.

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One Comment on “Homeschool Pioneers Ron and Nancy Shuler”

  1. Thank you so much for posting this well written article. Thank you to the Shulers for blazing the trail with homeschooling in Iowa. And most of all thank you to my dad, Craig Hastings, for helping fight the legal battles alongside so many families and then choosing to homeschool his own children. As a second generation homeschool parent, Iowa attorney, and, of course, his daughter, I consider myself so blessed to follow in his footsteps in so many ways. We were blessed to be able to homeschool in Iowa for many years, and now having experienced homeschooling in two other states, realize how truly blessed we were by the Iowa homeschooling pioneers.

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