The Home School Court Report
No. 5

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New Social Worker Guidelines

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) has issued new instructions for social workers investigating homeschooling families accused of educational neglect.

This past spring, DHW used the passage of a good homeschool bill (Senate Bill 1017) as an excuse to change its guidelines for investigating homeschoolers. Under the revised guidelines, parents accused of not educating their child had the burden of proving their innocence, even if the accusation had no credibility.

Idaho Coalition of Home Educators’ board of legal advisors, Christian Homeschoolers of Idaho State’s Linda Patchin, and Home School Legal Defense Association Senior Counsel Scott Woodruff spent several months working with DHW to solve this problem. DHW listened carefully to homeschoolers’ concerns. As a result, the new checklist for investigating homeschoolers provides meaningful protection against frivolous accusations. Here are a few highlights.

If a caller reports that a family is homeschooling, the DHW representative will tell him that homeschooling is legal and does not con-stitute educational neglect. If the caller gives detailed, credible evidence that the child is not receiving instruction as required under law, a social worker will open an investigation. But if the caller does not provide such evidence, no investigation will be opened.

If an investigation is opened, the family will be given the opportunity to show that the report is not credible or to show evidence that refutes the report (such as curriculum, test scores, lesson plans, or a description of educational efforts). This will result in the case being closed.

The checklist also provides social workers with a list of what is not evidence of educational neglect. The examples of non-evidence include a child who is learning at a slower rate than others of the same age and the use of an unconventional curriculum, schedule, or teaching method.

The Guidelines for the Assessment of Claims of Educational Neglect (the document’s formal name) changes the landscape in Idaho. Any guidance you previously received for responding to social worker investigations may therefore no longer be helpful. If a report against your family gets through the initial screening process and a social worker shows up at your door, an excellent strategy would be to promptly seek individualized guidance from HSLDA before responding.*

— by Scott A. Woodruff

* See “HSLDA social services contact policy.”