Across the States
State Compels Unauthorized Reporting
In a memorandum to local public school superintendents dated May 31, 2007, Joseph B. Morton, state superintendent of education, notified them that all church schools and private schools in their respective areas are required to report their existence to the Alabama State Department of Education (SDE). According to the memorandum, all church schools are required to complete the 2007-2008 annual report of nonpublic schools form and return it to the SDE. Most home instruction in Alabama is conducted through church schools, so the reporting requirement described in the SDE memorandum is of concern to all home educators whose children are enrolled in these schools.
Home School Legal Defense Association Senior Counsel Dewitt Black wrote a letter to the state superintendent of education pointing out that no provision of the Alabama Code requires church schools to submit any such reports. Parents are required by § 16-28-7 of the Alabama Code to file a church school enrollment form with their local public school superintendent at the time their child enrolls in a church school. This is the extent of information required to be provided to the public school system about church schools and their enrollment. Accordingly, it is HSLDA’s opinion that church schools do not have to complete any portion of the 2007-2008 annual report of nonpublic schools form upon receipt of same from public school officials.
Another part of the SDE memorandum indicated that church schools desiring to receive state or federal funding must qualify as private schools as defined in § 16-28-1(1) of the Alabama Code. Black’s letter cited the provisions of § 16-28-1(2) of the Code which states that one of the characteristics of a church school is that it “not receive any state or federal funding.” Therefore, if a church school meets all of the requirements of a private school in order to receive state or federal funding and then receives such funding, it is no longer a church school under Alabama law. It has changed from a church school to a private school. Private schools are subject to the reporting requirements described in the SDE memorandum as well as additional requirements.
Black requested the state superintendent of education to issue an amended memorandum indicating that state law does not require church schools to complete any portion of the 2007-2008 annual report of nonpublic schools. On July 9, 2007, the superintendent issued an addendum to the first memorandum, citing the provisions of the Alabama Child Protection Act as the basis for requiring the reporting. Black again responded to the superintendent and pointed out that the Child Protection Act did not authorize the state superintendent of education to require such reporting of church schools.
It appears that the SDE is determined to require church schools to complete the reporting form in question, even without any legal authority to do so. Should any of our member families encounter difficulties with public school officials relating to this matter, they should contact HSLDA for assistance.
— by Dewitt T. Black