The Home School Court Report
Vol. XXVI
No. 4
Cover
July/August
2010

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RHODE ISLAND

North Kingstown Corrects “Ambush” Policy

On April 5, 2010, the North Kingstown School Committee adopted a favorable homeschool policy, thus making amends for ambushing the homeschool community last year with onerous policy changes.

Things had gone relatively smoothly in the North Kingstown district since autumn 2002, when homeschoolers and the school committee had worked cooperatively to produce a good homeschool policy. The process concluded with apparently good lines of communication and collegial relationships between school officials and homeschoolers.

But in March 2009, the school committee abruptly and dramatically changed that policy with no notice to families. When, in September 2009, a truant officer began visiting families who were not in compliance with the burdensome new policy, homeschoolers were stunned.

The “ambush” policy required parents to

  1. Meet with an assistant superintendent;
  2. Prove their instructional plan met “RI Department of Education requirements” (the policy did not explain what this meant);
  3. “Register” their child in person with the North Kingstown School Department;
  4. Prove they lived in North Kingstown; and
  5. Produce their child’s birth certificate.

Home School Legal Defense Association Senior Counsel Scott Woodruff and Rhode Island Guild of Home Teachers’ Amy Brock swiftly developed a plan to address this policy. Brock contacted the school committee chairman, who promptly apologized for the “ambush” and promised to put the policy back on the agenda for modification. The chairman and the superintendent promised that homeschoolers who had filed a notice of intent would not be visited by a truant officer.

There followed many more meetings and conversations, but the superintendent had a hard time giving up on the idea of forcing homeschoolers to register like public school students. He requested an advisory opinion from the Rhode Island Department of Education, which wrote back and said homeschoolers cannot be compelled to register in this way.

With this point of contention removed, other policy issues were addressed, including the need for a specific requirement that homeschoolers be notified when any change in homeschool policy is contemplated.

The policy subcommittee of the school committee met on March 25, 2010, with a solid contingent of homeschoolers present. After hearing the homeschooling parents’ testimony, the subcommittee agreed to support all the changes the parents requested. The full school committee approved the policy on April 5 after replacing the obsolete subject requirements of U.S. history, Rhode Island history and government, and American government with the current requirement of “civics.”

Highlights of the new policy include the following:

  1. Parents will be invited (not required) to meet with the assistant superintendent (most families will want to decline this invitation).

  2. The letter of intent will confirm that parents will teach all required subjects (no proof of curriculum required).
  3. No “registration” is required.
  4. No proof of residence is required.
  5. No birth certificate is required, but parents are asked to identify the child’s age in years and months, and last grade completed.
  6. All homeschooling parents currently on record in North Kingstown will receive written notice if any change of policy is being formally considered.

If you have the opportunity, please thank Amy Brock for the many, many hours she invested in helping finalize a policy that will protect homeschool freedom in North Kingstown. And thank the school committee members for their cooperation.

— by Scott A. Woodruff

Truancy Threatened over “Locator Card”

When John Blanch (name changed to protect privacy) filed a notice of intent in Chariho in January 2010, he received a polite letter inviting him to meet with school officials to discuss curriculum and fill out a “locator card” (required for public school students). John checked with HSLDA, and we confirmed that neither a meeting nor a “locator card” is legally required.

A few days later, a truant officer showed up at the door, threatening truancy proceedings if John did not submit to the meeting and locator card requests.

Dismayed that the “invitation” had morphed into a threat to take him to court, John sought follow-up guidance from HSLDA. Senior counsel Scott Woodruff, surprised at the aggressive posture of the truant officer, suggested that John contact the assistant superintendent and ask her to put into writing the message the truant officer was apparently trying to deliver on her behalf.

The assistant superintendent promptly dropped the demand for a meeting and a locator card. She said all she wanted was for John to submit some information about the curriculum his family uses. After John did so, the matter was concluded.

— by Scott A. Woodruff