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Senate Committee Debates Home School Status

On June 13, Michael Smith received an urgent phone call from Carlos Perez, a home schooling father and attorney who has assisted Home School Legal Defense Association in Puerto Rico. Mr. Perez indicated that legislation dealing with private church schools had been debated before a senate legislative committee and home schooling became a hot topic of discussion. The legal counsel to the equivalent of a state board of education testified that the general council had jurisdiction over home schooling in Puerto Rico and that home schooling could be licensed.

Mr. Perez was present at the hearing as co-counsel for the church schools in Puerto Rico. There was not enough time for a rebuttal testimony to the incorrect and damaging information about the status of home schooling in Puerto Rico. The senator in charge of the committee continued the hearing until June 15th and indicated that he would allow Mr. Perez to provide information regarding home education. Mr. Perez asked Michael Smith to come down and assist in the preparation of the testimony and to be available for oral testimony if time permitted.

After working most of the night for the hearing the next morning, Michael Smith and Attorney Perez were able to prepare a written statement with supporting information favorable to home education. The hearing was attended by many home and private school families as well as the media. The hearing room was packed, and the air conditioning soon failed. After almost an hour and a half of testimony, the senator in charge of the hearing adjourned the hearing. He invited Michael Smith and Attorney Perez back into the cool of his chambers to further discuss the private school and home school issues.

As a result of that discussion, many of the objections the church schools had to the bill were resolved. Additionally, the specific provision which contained home school language was left unamended, maintaining that home schooling is recognized but not subject to licensing or control by the government in Puerto Rico.

Although the bill went through the Senate without amendment, the home school and correspondence school provisions were deleted on the House side. The reason indicated for the deletion was that the governor's office was opposed to home schooling. Mr. Perez had an opportunity to meet with the governor's officials, who told him this was not true and that the governor wanted to hear more about home education.

Ultimately, the bill passed the legislature without further amendment and without the provisions dealing with home schooling and correspondence schools. Therefore, the home schooling situation in Puerto Rico remains unchanged. There is no specific mention of home schooling in the law.

HSLDA continues to take the position that home schools in Puerto Rico are non-governmental entity schools, therefore, children attending these home schools are exempt from public school attendance in Puerto Rico. Additionally, it is the position of HSLDA that since neither the statutes nor the regulations in Puerto Rico give the government or any local school district the authority to regulate home schooling, home schools in Puerto Rico are not subject to government oversight, regulation, or approval.

Home schoolers in Puerto Rico do not need to submit to requests to view their curriculum or to submit information regarding their qualifications, testing, or any other information regarding home education. However, a provision in Puerto Rico provides that a child's education cannot be neglected by the parents; therefore, should an allegation be made against a home school family of neglecting the education of their children, a social worker would be obligated to investigate.

However, our experience regarding contacts with social workers has been that the most common allegation against home schooling families is not that they are neglecting their children's education, but that they are not sending them to school. Verification that the children are being taught at home should be sufficient to prevent further investigation, as long as there is no credible information that the family is neglecting the education of their children.

Attorney Perez said there was a suggestion at the end of the legislative session to establish a commission to investigate home schooling in Puerto Rico. That did not happen, but it is anticipated that some form of legislation will be entered next session to address home schooling.

We will continue to monitor this situation and work closely with attorney Perez and other home school leaders in Puerto Rico. If it does appear that legislation is inevitable, we have already prepared a draft of a home school law which will require very minimal contact with the government of Puerto Rico and/or the local school district.