Nine days into the new year, Governor John Engler signed into law a bill that ushers in a new era for Michigan home schoolers. Senate Bill 679-Amendment A, along with other substantial revisions to the School Code of 1976, freed all Michigan home schoolers from the burdensome and objectionable requirements of the old law.
Home schools are now recognized as a separate category of education which qualifies for an exemption from public school attendance. The most significant aspects of the new law are:
- home schools do not have to have certified teachers providing instruction, and
- home schools are not subject to any reporting requirements to local school districts, intermediate school districts, or the Michigan Department of Education.
The new law specifically exempts from public school attendance a child who is
being educated by his or her parent or legal guardian at the child's home in an organized educational program that is appropriate given the age, intelligence, ability, and any psychological limitations of the child, in the subject areas of reading, spelling, mathematics, science, history, civics, literature, writing, and English grammar.
Additionally, the new law provides that a child who "has graduated from high school or has fulfilled all requirements for high school graduation" is no longer required to attend school. The new law goes into effect on July 1, 1996.
It is interesting to note that the language in the new law is was taken from the Probate Code (§712A.2 juvenile division), under which parents may be charged with child neglect if they do not provide, among other things, an education for their children. The term "education" is defined in the Probate Code as,
learning based on an organized educational program that is appropriate, given the age, intelligence, ability, and any psychological limitations of a child, in the subject areas of reading, spelling, mathematics, science, history, civics, writing, and English grammar.
Thus, the duty placed on home schooling parents by the law just signed by Governor Engler is no different from the responsibility they already had under existing law. Apart from the requirement in the new home school law that parents teach literature as a subject, the only difference between what was already in the Probate Code and the new law is that there is now an express recognition of the parents' right to personally provide this education in the child's home.
The Trail to Freedom
For many years, home schoolers in Michigan faced intense persecution. Categorized as nonpublic schools, home schools were regulated by the Michigan Private and Parochial Schools Act. The home school instructor was required to be certified, and there were troublesome reporting requirements which every year led to disputes over the type of information home schoolers were legally obligated to provide.
Every year hundreds of Home School Legal Defense Association member families were contacted by local school officials, and the police simply because they were home schooling their children. Thankfully, the majority of these contacts were resolved without going to court. However, Michigan was also our most litigious state for several years running.
The most grueling case was People v. DeJonge. It began in 1985 when HSLDA members Mark and Chris DeJonge of Ottawa County began home schooling their two oldest children, Tony and Allisa. The local school district contacted the DeJonges and told them that in order to legally home school they would have to use a certified teacher or be certified themselves. Mark and Chris, believing that God had called them as parents to teach their own children, informed the school district that they could not comply with the teacher certification requirement. As a consequence, they were charged with criminal truancy, convicted and sentenced to two year's probation for instructing their children without state certified teachers. Thus began a long series of appeals, first to the circuit court and then to the Court of Appeals. In 1988, during the appeal process, the Michigan Court of Appeals combined DeJonge with Bennett—another case involving a home schooling family who were not members of HSLDA. John and Sandra Benentt's case also began in 1985. At that time their home school was supervised by two certified teachers. The court, however, held that the Bennetts did not have enough supervision, and they were convicted of "failure to send their children to school."
Finally, in 1992 the Michigan Supreme Court agreed to hear DeJonge/Bennett. Michael Farris argued the case before the Court in November 1992, and on May 25, 1993, the decision was issued.
The Michigan Supreme Court reversed the lower court's rulings, upholding the right of parents who are home schooling for religious reasons to be exempt from the teacher certification requirements and requiring education officials to follow the administrative procedure guidelines in any action against home schoolers.
For many home schoolers in Michigan, the Supreme Court's ruling in DeJonge freed them to teach their children in peace and security. But for the families who were not home schooling for religious reasons and were not state-certified teachers, the situation was not so secure. They were required to rely upon a stipulation by the department of education by which instruction could be provided by persons holding a four-year bachelor's degree.
Now, as a result of the new law, teacher certification has been struck down for everyone and the rights of parents to direct the education of their children have been affirmed.
It remains to be seen how the courts of Michigan will interpret this new legislation, but from all appearances it is a tremendous improvement in existing law and should result in a freedom never before experienced by home educators in Michigan.
Michigan may very well have been transformed from one of the most troublesome states for home schoolers into one of the most favorable.
[SIDEBAR] For many years, home schoolers in Michigan faced intense persecution.
1985 - Mark and Chris DeJonge were arrested for home schooling
1986 - Haines, Smolls, Gibson v. Runkle
1988 - Sheridan Rd. Baptist Church v. State
1991 - People v. Pebler
1992 - Officials tried unsuccessfully to arrest a six-year old-home school girl for truancy
1993 - In a 4-3 vote, the Michigan Supreme Court rules in favor of the DeJonges
1996 - Governor John Engler signs bill recognizing home schooling and giving new freedom to all Michigan home schoolers
Questions & Answers About the New Law
1. What are the legal requirements for home schools between now and the date the new law goes into effect, July 1, 1996?
Parents should continue to operate their home schools under existing law until the new law goes into effect, responding to inquiries just as we have previously advised you. In light of the new law, however, it is less likely that there will be enforcement of the existing law by state officials during this interim period.
2. May home schools continue to operate as nonpublic schools even after July 1, 1996?
Yes. There is nothing in the language of the new law which prohibits home schools from continuing to operate as nonpublic schools, at the option of the parent. Until a court rules that the legislative intent of the new law was to exclude home schools from being considered by parents as nonpublic schools, parents may continue to operate as nonpublic schools if they choose to do so. The new law simply creates more exceptions to the compulsory attendance law.
3. Is the Michigan Department of Education authorized under the new law to promulgate regulations for home education programs?
No. Without express legislative authority to do so, the department of education may not regulate home education programs. The Supreme Court of Michigan has already ruled in the case of Clonlara, Inc. v. State Board of Education that the department of education has no authority to regulate nonpublic schools.
4. Since the new law describes a home education program as being "organized" and "appropriate given the age, intelligence, ability, and any psychological limitations of the child," do parents have to demonstrate in any way that their program meets these requirements?
No. The new law does not require or authorize any testing or evaluation of the home education program to determine if it meets these requirements.
5. Does the new law create any additional duties for home schooling parents which did not exist under prior law?
No. The language for the new law is almost identical to language which already appeared in the Probate Code relating to the duty of all parents to provide for the education of their children. The new law simply recognizes that a parent may elect to perform this duty personally in the child's home.
6. Do parents have to notify any public school official of their decision to conduct a home education program under the new law?
No. Furthermore, should parents receive a Form SM-4325 from the department of education or any other inquiry from their local or intermediate school district requesting information about their home education program, they are under no obligation to provide any such information.
7. If parents are contacted by public school officials or social services questioning whether they are in compliance with the compulsory attendance law or seeking information about their home education program, how should the parents respond?
Parents should advise HSLDA of the contact and then respond in writing, sending a copy of the letter to HSLDA. The letter from the parents should state that they are conducting a home education program in accordance with the newly enacted statute. There is no need to provide curriculum information or any information about their children except the fact that they are of compulsory attendance age. HSLDA will provide a sample letter in a mailout for use by member families in responding to such inquiries.
8. Under the new exception to compulsory attendance for students who have graduated from high school or have fulfilled graduation requirements, what are the requirements for graduation from a home education program?
There are no graduation requirements established by state law for students in an "organized educational program" at home, so parents are free to establish reasonable requirements consistent with the course requirements of the new law.