Approval States Cause Trouble
Approximately 20 states presently require that homeschoolers be specifically approved by their local school board or superintendent. Of course, the problem is that the superintendent and school board have a vested interest in the public school system and oftentimes a personal bias against homeschoolers. It is difficult for the public school officials to be fair when they are in competition with homeschoolers.
HSLDA works with hundreds and hundreds of homeschoolers each year who live in approval states and are subject to the arbitrary discretion of local public school officials. Below is a summary of some of the approval states where HSLDA has had various confrontations.
In the state of Maine, the law requires that all instruction be “equivalent” to public schools and “approved” by the commissioner. The commissioner has passed “Guidelines for Equivalent Instruction Through Home Schooling” which provides extensive procedures that homeschoolers must follow in order to be approved. These guidelines require detailed information concerning the curriculum and qualifications of the teacher at the homeschool. Many times the homeschooler is subject to the arbitrary and restrictive standards of the local school committee.
For example, the Dionne family, members in Frenchville, were approached by a local attendance officer two weeks after they moved into the area. (The family had been successfully homeschooling in Connecticut for the last two years.) This was followed by a phone call by the local superintendent telling them that their children were truant and had to be enrolled in the public school immediately. The Dionnes contacted HSLDA attorney Chris Klicka. He called the superintendent explaining that the family was not truant unless there was evidence that the children were not being educated. Klicka convinced the superintendent that he should allow the family to follow the procedures set forth by the state guidelines. The family then partially filled out an application for home instruction explaining that they were only providing the information to assure the school district that an education was taking place, not to seek approval. Based on their religious convictions the family believed that the state had no authority to approve their homeschool because it was their God-given right.
The local school committee rejected their application and gave them 10 days to remedy the problem. Klicka tried calling on behalf of the family but his phone calls were never returned. Without warning, a truant officer appeared on the Dionnes’ doorstep refusing to leave unless he could take the children away to the public school. The family immediately called Klicka and handed the phone to the truant officer. Klicka told the truant officer that he was overstepping his authority and that he would be held personally liable under the 1983 Civil Rights Act. President Mike Farris got on the line and added that he would also be liable for kidnapping if he took the children. Needless to say the truant officer left without the children. Klicka then tried to call the superintendent, but the superintendent hung up on him.
Farris also called the state department of education about the situation and they, in turn, called the superintendent telling him to allow the family to submit their additional information. At a second meeting, the local school committee again disapproved the family in spite of the fact that Connecticut had found the Dionnes’ curriculum equivalent for the last two years. HSLDA appealed the case to the commissioner of education and Klicka flew to Augusta and represented the Dionnes at the hearing. On April 27, 1987, the commissioner ruled in favor of the Dionnes allowing them to homeschool.
In East Machias, the Uffelman family, another HSLDA member, registered as a non-approved private school and met all the necessary standards. The standards are: 1) keep attendance records, 2) instruct for 175 days, 3) administer an annual standardized test, 4) provide instruction in reading, writing, math, science, history, geography, spelling, grammar, and government, and 5) meet fire and health laws. However, an official in the state board of education refused to accept the Uffelmans’ school as a non-approved school. The state notified the local school district and the local school district threatened truancy charges against the family, even though both have college degrees. Klicka then wrote a lengthy letter to the superintendent, explaining that the family complied with the Non-Approved Private School Guidelines. Klicka also advised the family to fill out an amended homeschool application only for the purpose of assuring the school district that their children were being educated. After lengthy negotiations between HSLDA, the Uffelmans, and the school district, the family was finally allowed to freely operate their homeschool.
Maine continues to be a difficult state to homeschool because of the extensive restrictions and monitoring procedures.
This year Colorado has cracked down on homeschoolers, causing numerous prosecutions. HSLDA has been involved in three cases this year and several negative contacts (which were subsequently resolved by HSLDA’s legal staff without going to court). The atmosphere does not seem like it will improve since the recently introduced homeschool bill (HB 1188) was defeated in the legislature.
In LaJunta, charges were dismissed against the Brakenhoff family. HSLDA attorney Bill Moritz of Colorado Springs was able to effect the dismissal since the family was in the process of moving out of the county.
In Denver (Adams County), the Fitzpatrick family was recently charged with truancy by the local school district for refusing to fill out a form concerning their homeschool. The charges were brought in spite of the fact that the family was using an “approved system of home instruction.” HSLDA hired attorney Bill Moritz to defend the family. The trial was held on May 5, 1987, before Judge Borchers. Moritz argued that the family should be exempted from the compulsory attendance statute based on their sincerely held religious convictions. The judge has not yet rendered his decision.
In Lake City, the Hinsdale County School District brought charges against the Main family for violating the compulsory attendance law because they refused to seek approval from the state. HSLDA agreed to have attorney Bruce Lorenzen of Gunnison defend the family.
On May 6, 1987, the court ruled in favor of the Mains in an important decision (Hinsdale County School District v. Main, et al., #86 JV 10, District Court of Gunnison County, Colorado). The court held that the Mains have sincerely-held religious convictions and “like the Amish, the Mains’ religion pervades and virtually determines their entire way of life” (page 3 of Main). The court made clear that the Mains’ religious convictions require them to teach their children at home and that could not be questioned because “in our society, public officials may not proscribe what is and is not orthodox”(page 3). The judge rejected the prosecution’s claim that the Mains had to be part of a “church-oriented community with a centuries-old tradition like the fabled Amish of Pennsylvania” in order to have their religious beliefs protected by the First Amendment.
Furthermore, the court recognized that “the state has an important interest in the education of children, but to minimize interference with sincerely held religious beliefs, it must find the least intrusive means available to accomplish that interest” (page 2). As a result, the court allowed the Main family to homeschool without getting approval from the State. The court stated “the Mains are complying with the purpose of the attendance law even if they have not obtained approval of their home study program” (page 3). The court held that since the Mains’ child scored so well on her standardized test, that was evidence that she was being educated to perform in society. Therefore, “the state’s interest in seeing she is properly educated is being satisfied” (page 3). Based on this reasoning, the court dismissed charges against the family and only ordered that their children receive standardized testing each year and the results of such testing be submitted to the court by June 1 of each year.
The Main case only sets precedent for Gunnison County but it sent a clear message to the state that a less restrictive means exists (testing) than the present approval requirements. The case is also important because the judge ruled that compliance with regulation 1 CCR 2.01 does not appear to be legally necessary (page 4). This decision constitutes an important victory for Colorado homeschoolers.
In Connecticut, a homeschool is legal if the parent is able to show “that the child is elsewhere receiving equivalent instruction.” As a result of the vagueness of the term equivalent, each school district has developed differing standards and requirements. The HSLDA legal staff has been involved in counseling dozens of families who are having problems with their local school districts.
For example, in our last issue of this newsletter, we reported on the Gibson family in Beacon Falls and their refusal to have their child tested by the state for religious reasons. After the local board threatened to deny them, the family finally won permission on January 15, 1987, to teach their child without taking the local standardized test. The victory hinged on the fact that the school board attorney, Warren Hess, told the school board that they do not have the power to require testing of homeschoolers at the local level. Furthermore, Hess stated that the local board’s power was limited to deciding whether or not the Gibsons’ homeschooling program provided their child with an “equivalent education.” “And that,” he added, “is a judgment call.”
Vague statutes like Connecticut’s can be used both in favor of homeschoolers or against homeschoolers depending on the local school administration, school attorney, or judge.
Massachusetts continues to be a difficult state for homeschoolers in spite of the recent decision by the Supreme Judicial Court of that state (Care and Protection of Charles, et al., 504 NE 2d 592 —attorney Paul Dillon of Falmouth handled this case on behalf of the Moskos family [a non-member]). The HSLDA legal staff provided advice on legal strategy to attorney Dillon.
The court vacated the finding in the lower trial court that the children were in need of care. The court held that home education by the parents is a “right protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.” Furthermore, the court confirmed that the object of the compulsory attendance statute is “that all children shall be educated, not that they shall be educated in any particular way” (page 600).
On the other hand, the court would not rule the statute as being void for vagueness (page 596). Instead, the court “legislated” their own standards which the school boards should follow when determining equivalency. The court said the school boards should consider 1) the number of hours and days of instruction, 2) the availability of standardized tests or progress reports to monitor the child’s progress, 3) textbooks and lesson plans to ensure that the subjects required by law are being covered, and 4) the qualifications of the teacher/parent. The court made clear that the school boards could not require college degrees or teaching certificates (page 601). Furthermore, the court held “that the approval process
is necessary to promote effectively that state’s substantial interest” (page 600).
In other words, the court recognized that the parents’ right to teach their own children is protected by the Constitution but that right is still subject to the approval of the local school districts.
Several school districts have given homeschoolers a hard time under the new ruling. In Holbrook, the Bohl family was disapproved in November 1986 because they only had high school diplomas, their A Beka homeschool program was considered inadequate, and they refused to allow the school district officials to periodically visit their homeschool. The HSLDA legal staff contacted the local superintendent and arranged for a rehearing before the school board. The hearing was cancelled in January because of a snow storm and never rescheduled. Suddenly, the superintendent brought criminal charges against the family for violating the compulsory attendance law. HSLDA has hired Paul Dillon to defend the family in court.
HSLDA is presently handling several other situations in Hyannis, Holyoke, and Walpole as the school districts attempt to create new restrictive requirements for homeschoolers.