Attorney General Issues Favorable Opinion
Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor has issued an opinion on church schools which is very favorable to both church and home school students. Although attorney general opinions are not law, they are a statement of how the attorney general believes the law should be interpreted and are therefore given substantial weight by courts.
In response to a question from Alabama Representative Pete Turnham, Attorney General Pryor stated that, based on the laws of Alabama, "Church schools … are exempt from governmental regulation…. No state or governmental agency has the authority to regulate a church school." He concluded that, except for the reporting requirements for attendance, "there is no provision of Alabama law that permits or requires any state or local authority to regulate a church school."
Because most home schoolers in Alabama teach their children under the supervision of a church school, this opinion helps them as well. It indicates a favorable attitude at the state level toward private education and confirms that the statute recognizing church schools gives no power to the state to prescribe teacher qualifications or content of instruction in church schools.
State Superintendent Making Noise
State Superintendent Ed Richardson, the head of the Alabama Department of Education, has recently been quoted in several newspapers as saying that he feel some home schoolers are using the church school option to "circumvent the law." Since many of our members have asked about this, we felt we should clarify both our position and his.
Superintendent Richardson acknowledges that parents have a right to teach their children at home. However, the Alabama Department of Education has always held the position that all parents who wish to teach their children may do so only as private tutors. Alabama law requires that private tutors be state-certified teachers.
Another option under Alabam's compulsory school attendance law is to have the children attend a church school. These church schools are not regulated by the state, and the teachers are not required to be certified. Most home schoolers in Alabama choose this option, and hundreds of families have successfully done so since the early 1980's.
Superintendent Richardson has stated that these church schools must "supervise" the instruction of the children. His major concern is that some church schools are not providing adequate supervision of the home schoolers enrolled in their school. The church school statute says that the school must be "operated as a ministry of a local church, group of churches, denomination, and/or association of churches…." Being operated as a ministry of one of these religious organizations implies some degree of oversight, but state law does not specify the extent of supervision.
Wayne Atchison, President of the Christian Home Education Fellowship of Alabama (CHEF), wrote to Superintendent Richardson after these newspaper articles had been published, explaining what Hope Christian School, a church school in Alabaster, requires of the home schoolers enrolled in its program. Superintendent Richardson responded very favorably, saying that it was "quite obvious that your standards exceed those which are required." Although this was a positive contact for one church school, home schoolers in Alabama should remain alert to the possibility that there may be an attempt to pass new legislation restricting the freedoms they now enjoy.