Victory in Rhode Island
In August, there was victory for Rhode Island homeschoolers when the state commissioner of education decided in favor of an HSLDA family, setting a legal precedent for the entire state.
The commissioner reversed the decision of the Kinsdstedt family’s local school district, who disapproved the family’s homeschool because they refused to submit to periodic “home visits” by the public school personnel. This included a periodic visit to observe the family's homeschool in progress.
HSLDA attorneys Chris Klicka and Mike Farris argued that the Kindstedts’ school district had infringed on the family’s fundamental, constitutional rights by requiring home visits. Klicka contended that at the very least, the Kindstedt family was entitled to a religious exemption from home visits. Upon receiving HSLDA's brief and hearing oral arguments, the state commissioner of education issued a formal written opinion which found that home visitation cannot be mandated by public school authorities over parental objection. He said in the Kindstedt decision that, “in view of legal and constitutional considerations, we are unable to perceive any rationale whereby a home visitation requirement would be justifiable under circumstances such as those which are here present.” He continued by emphasizing,
. . . it is our view that both the Fourth Amendment and also the constitutionally derived right to privacy and autonomy which the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized protect individuals from unwanted and warrantless visits to the home by agents of the state under circumstances such as those present here.
(See Kindstedt v. East Greenwich School Committee, written decision of the Commissioner of Education, August 7, 1986, state of Rhode Island.)
The Kindstedts were originally contacted last spring by their superintendent and informed that their “course of at home instruction” must be approved by the local school committee. After receiving counsel from HSLDA, the family appeared before the local school committee to volunteer information about their curriculum, but not to seek “approval.” The school committee found everything in order but they had required the periodical home visits. It was at this point that HSLDA appealed the case to the state commissioner of education.
The issue of “home visits” has been dropped as a requirement for “approval” in Rhode Island but it has become a major issue of contention in several other states this year. Although not one state compulsory attendance statute actually requires “home visits,” school districts in Ohio, New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania have sought to impose such visits on homeschoolers. In addition, the Maryland State Board of Education is presently considering a proposal to amend their homeschool regulation to require each homeschooler to be subject to up to three home visits a year. Hearings on the proposal will be held on January 28, 1987. HSLDA is planning on participating in the hearing.
It is obvious that the states listed above have compulsory attendance laws that are too vague, allowing each school district to set their own arbitrary requirements for homeschoolers. Presently, HSLDA is challenging the requirements of home visits and the vagueness of the statutes in the courts of New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
Michael P. Farris