States in Brief . . .
Homeschooling continues to grow each year. And so does HSLDA. In fact, HSLDA membership has nearly doubled since last year, reaching over 6500 member families. Of course this growth also means that more truant officers are visiting more families whose children are being homeschooled. This also represents more contacts and cases for HSLDA attorneys to handle.
Other factors have also contributed to a growth in homeschooling this year. For example, in Kunkeltown, Pennsylvania, 10 families have removed their children from the public school because a child with AIDS was allowed to attend classes. All of these children are now being homeschooled. (The Express, Easton, Pennsylvania, September 9, 1987) The AIDS issue has become increasingly violent in public schools throughout the country as parents try to protect their children from infectious children carrying the AIDS virus. More and more homeschoolers are citing health as one of the factors for homeschooling.
Another factor which is bothering parents are the prevalent teacher strikes in public schools across the nation. Teacher strikes have already disrupted the education of 720,000 students in seven states (Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington, Washington Times, September 9, 1987). In Detroit, Michigan, one of HSLDA’s members witnessed a television interview with public school administrators which encouraged parents to obtain textbooks to begin teaching their children at home while the teachers were on strike. This way the children would not fall behind in their studies. (Also see Detroit News, “Programs Help Fill void for Idle Students,” September 17, 1987.) Although these parents were not certified, as required by Michigan law, the public schools implicitly recognized the parents’ right to teach their children. (Only when it is to the public school’s advantage! As soon as the strike was over, parents were told once again they can not teach because they are not certified.)
These developments and the continued growth of homeschooling have attracted the attention of many state officials. Public school officials, in reaction, have been trying their best to tighten controls on homeschoolers so they do not get out of hand. Below is a summary of legal action in several states over the last few months.
The federal judge in Steyne, et al. v. Hewyard, et al. (No. 3:86-2629-0, U.S. District Court of South Carolina, Columbia Division) extended his order staying prosecutions of HSLDA members in South Carolina to the end of the 1988 legislative season. This court order effectively prohibits any action against HSLDA members living in South Carolina. Although the order does not technically bind school districts not named in the suit, the pragmatic effect of the order is that other school districts in South Carolina should be bound. If a non-party school district threatens adverse action, HSLDA will add all such school districts to the suit and will ask the court to formally add them to the binding terms of the order. All parties and the federal court are waiting to give the recently introduced homeschool bill a chance to get passed in the legislative session beginning in January 1988.
During the last session of the South Carolina legislature, the house passed a new homeschool bill which was supported by most homeschoolers in the state. The senate, however, did not have an opportunity to vote on the measure. The federal court order in the Steyne case will allow HSLDA member families to continue homeschooling free from prosecution until the end of the 1988 legislative year.
Oral arguments on the cross motion for summary judgement in the federal civil rights action which HSLDA filed in New York (Blackwelder, et al. v. Safnauer, et al., No. 86-CV1208, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York) are scheduled for October 26, 1987.
HSLDA attorney Mike Farris will be arguing the case. His primary argument will be that the statute is void for vagueness because the legislature has failed to define the term “equivalent instruction.” Due to lack of clear definition, superintendents statewide interpret the law differently and apply their own arbitrary criteria in defining the term. This being easily demonstrated, Farris hopes the judge will grant the request for summary judgement following oral arguments.
Fortunately, there have been no new state cases filed against HSLDA members in New York. This is primarily due to a May 14, 1987, decision by the commissioner of education, Gordon M. Ambach, in the Appeal of Barbara Raeder-Tracy. In this case, a homeschool mother was allowed to teach her daughter but not her son at home. Although not an HSLDA member, Mrs. Raeder Tracy called HSLDA several times and consulted with attorney Chris Klicka as to how to argue her case. Mrs. Raeder Tracy successfully presented her case to the commissioner of education, and he dismissed the denial of her request for permission to homeschool by the Connetquot Central School District, stating, 7ldquo;there is no statutory requirement that a parent or guardian obtain the consent (permission) of a superintendent of schools or board of education before removing a child from a public school” (page 2 of the commissioner’s decision). This decision clearly sends a message to school districts that they cannot demand that homeschoolers obtain the district’s prior consent to teach their children at home.
This summer, the legislature extended the “sunset” provision of the homeschool law until 1997. Many homeschoolers were concerned that Florida’s 1985 homeschool law would be repealed or radically altered once it sunsetted this year. Fortunately, the homeschoolers prevailed the legislature extended the law, without any changes, for the next 10 years.
Since there is no homeschool law in Kansas, homeschoolers have traditionally operated as private schools. Each homeschool registers its name and address with the state board of education, covers the core subjects taught in public schools, and provides instruction by a “competent” instructor for a “substantially equivalent” amount of time the public school is maintained (KSA 72-1111[a]). These homeschools will be considered “non-accredited private schools” and will not be subject to state approval.
This year, HSLDA homeschoolers in Olathe, Mineola, Brookville, Beloit, and Wichita have been contacted by the authorities. In one instance, the Sneath family was approached by an SRS agent who demanded entry into their home in order to check for “child abuse.” The parents refused and requested that all further questions be put in writing. They then called HSLDA, and, as prayers were made on behalf of the family, attorney Chris Klicka called the SRS official. After Klicka explained that the agent could not enter without a warrant, the agent backed off and apologized to the family. Klicka also explained to the SRS agent that the Fourth Amendment and the right to privacy prohibits entry into anyone’s house without a warrant demonstrating probable cause that a crime is taking place. Subsequently, the SRS agent met with the Sneaths in a neutral location, positively concluding her “investigation.”
In Olathe, a family was contacted by the local superintendent who doubted that the family’s private school was legitimate. Klicka wrote a four-page legal letter to the superintendent and the family has heard nothing since. The Gold family in Beloit was able to give the SRS sufficient information on their doorstep, ending the investigation. In Mineola, the McKissicks were questioned by the school board why their children were not in school. After counseling with the HSLDA legal staff, the family wrote a letter explaining the registration of their private school. A few days later, they received a friendly letter from the superintendent telling them that since they are a registered private school, they are eligible for Chapter I reading services.
Indiana has always been considered one of the better states since a homeschool has been recognized as a private school since 1904 (State v. Peterman, 70 N.E. 50 ). The only requirement for private schools is that they provide “instruction equivalent to that given in the public schools” (ISA § 20-8.1-3-34). The state board of education is not given authority to define “equivalent instruction” nor to approve homeschools. However, this year homeschoolers have been contacted by school officials who are demanding that the family have its curriculum approved by them.
The Benton Community School District is requiring that each homeschool family submit to the superintendent 1) student performance objectives, 2) the method to achieve performance objectives, 3) a calendar and schedule of instruction, 4) the method of evaluation, the results of which must be periodically reported to the superintendent, and 5) the adult responsible for the child’s supervision and education. The superintendent uses a January 1984 letter from Stephen Goldsmith, the prosecuting attorney in Marion County, as his “authority.” Of course, such “authority” carries no legal weight at all and is not binding on anybody.
The Evansville-Vanderburgh school district is demanding similar information from homeschoolers. In addition, the school district is demanding that homeschoolers follow the public school weekly requirements of minutes of instruction. The school district, for example, wants the homeschooler to provide 750 minutes of weekly study in language arts and 225 minutes in math and on and on for every subject. HSLDA attorneys are counseling several families in these school districts in order to expose the inaccuracy of these requirements.
Homeschoolers in Indiana are not obligated to notify their school districts of their private school in the home. If contacted, homeschoolers need only assure the school district that they are teaching the required subjects over the same amount of days as public schools.
Maine has been a difficult state for homeschoolers to operate in because of its extensive approval requirements. Each school district can set up its own policy for homeschooling and its own definition of “equivalent instruction.” However, the state board of education has the power to “reverse” any decision by the local school boards.
Recently, in Presque Isle, the Griffin family’s homeschool was “disapproved” by the local school board. After ignoring the family’s curriculum, the school board denied the family because of “philosophical reasons.” The father is a certified Maine teacher with an excellent academic program.
At present, HSLDA attorney Chris Klicka is helping the family appeal the case and will be representing the family by letter and phone before the commissioner. Because the Maine compulsory attendance law is so vague, it allows for this arbitrary denial of a family's constitutional right to homeschool.
In another development, the judge in a homeschool case, Blount v. State of Maine, No. CV-86-494, Superior Court of Kennebec County, September 16, 1987, ruled against the family. The judge ruled that a homeschool could not operate as a “non-approved private school.” If a school has at least two children and those two children are unrelated, that school is a non-approved private school even though the school building is a home. However, if two related families with eight children teach their children under one roof, that is not a non-approved school.
The judge also held that although the family established that the state’s approval requirements violated their religious beliefs, the approval process is the “least restrictive means” of fulfilling the state’s interest in education. This decision contradicts many other cases that have found approval requirements too restrictive and it denies the fact that 31 other states allow homeschoolers to operate without seeking approval. The attorney in this case, Sam Lanham of Bangor, is appealing this case to the state supreme court. HSLDA will be filing an amicus brief against the decision and in favor of the Blounts.
The situation in Maine, as a result, is still uncertain. However, according to the state board of education, a homeschool that teaches at least one unrelated student can be classified as a “non-approved” private school and thus can avoid the approval process.
Currently, unless a family is satelliting with a state-approved private school, the Tennessee law requires that a parent/teacher have a high school diploma or a GED to teach grades K–8 (§ 49-6-305-[b]). And in order to teach grades 9–12, a parent/teacher must possess a four-year college degree or request an exemption from the degree requirement through the state department of education (§ 49-6-3050[b]). However, although the state education commissioner clearly has the authority to exempt parents from the four-year degree requirement, to date, he has refused to do so.
As with similar requirements in other states, HSLDA staff may have a remedy for the Tennessee mandate that parents teaching grades 9–12 have a four-year degree. Members whose homeschool programs will be impacted by this requirement may want to contact HSLDA staff for further information.
The state school board will be deliberating new regulations. Presently, Hawaii is an approval state requiring that parents possess a bachelor’s degree and stipulating that the family submit curriculum, information on hours of instruction, subject areas, method of testing, list of textbooks, standardized test scores, and quarterly report cards to the board of education.
HSLDA attorney Mike Farris and homeschool leaders from Hawaii have drafted new regulations that are much less restrictive and do not involve approval. The state school board has held hearings on the topic, and more hearings are scheduled for this year.