New regulations in Colorado and Maryland
In Colorado, homeschoolers are faced with a new set of “emergency rules” which were adopted by the board of education on August 14, 1987. These new regulations are certainly not ideal but they have made several improvements. Each year, a homeschooler who is not certified must complete an “Annual Notification of Establishment of a System of Home Study” form and file it with the local superintendent.
The form requests the names of the parent-teachers, the address and phone number of the homeschool, and the names and ages of the children. In addition, the parents must make several assurances on the form: 1) the parent shall establish a record system which includes attendance, test results, and immunization (kept in the home with a copy filed with the school district), 2) parent shall teach the children 688 hours per year, 3), the parent shall provide each child with a “basic academic program of sequential instruction” which shall include math, science, social studies, reading, writing, and spelling (also Colorado history and government, the federal constitution, and effect of alcohol for higher grades), 4) the parent shall also provide “for informational purposes only” an instructional plan which shall include an outline of educational objectives, list of instructional materials, and a calendar for the school year, 5) lastly, the parent must have each child annually tested with a national standardized test by either the school district or “a certified teacher mutually agreed upon” (the child only needs to score in the 14%). Upon meeting the above criteria, the homeschool will receive a “certificate of exemption.”
Although these new regulations have not been tested in the courts, on their face, they have removed the power of approval from the hands of the local school districts. Now the school districts merely fulfill a mechanical function of gathering data according to the state board’s rules. No longer do the local school districts have discretion to reject a homeschool program. The homeschooler, under the new rules, has much more flexibility in setting up a curriculum program of their choice.
Chris Klicka of HSLDA, upon the request of Colorado homeschool leaders, presented amendments to the state board prior to the adoption of the new rules. Some of those amendments were adopted in various forms. However, the best amendments were not adopted. Klicka understood that these regulations were going to pass with or without the support of homeschoolers. He was attempting to lessen state control with his amendments to guarantee greater freedom for homeschoolers. Klicka's strategy was to make the regulations better for all those homeschoolers that were already known to their local school districts. He was not trying to eradicate state control with his amendments, because in light of the political climate in Colorado, that would have been a useless act. On the other hand, HSLDA is fully aware that some homeschoolers in Colorado insist on no state control and refuse to comply with the present regulations. For those homeschoolers there is a legal alternative.
Recently, attorney Bill Moritz of Woodland Park won the case Widefield School District v. Bohl, Colorado District Court, El Paso County, No. 86 JV 1389 (1987). The court upheld the lower court’s decision which said that an independent school could allow children enrolled in their school to study at home. Therefore, a child taught at home is still considered enrolled in an independent school and is exempted under the independent school statute (Colorado Revised Statutes § 22-33-104[b]). One of the bases for this ruling is the fact that in 1983, the legislature specifically amended the wording in the independent school exemption from “attends” to “enrolls,” apparently to allow independent schools greater flexibility in organizing their instructional program.
Since this “satellite school” option has already been upheld by two courts, HSLDA believes this is a legally valid defense. The Widefield school district, however, is not satisfied with the rulings and is appealing the Bohl case to the Colorado Court of Appeals. HSLDA will be filing an amicus brief in support of the decisions by the two lower courts. A final ruling will not likely be handed down by the court of appeals until the end of the school year.
Chris Klicka has utilized the Bohl decision to get several school districts to recognize homeschools in their district as legal satellite programs of Colorado independent schools.
Similarly, HSLDA was able to reach an acceptable settlement with the Fitzpatrick case where the judge ruled against the family but did not penalize them if they enrolled their children in an independent school. The Fitzpatricks subsequently enrolled their children in an independent satellite school following the Bohl case precedent.
On July 27, 1987, the state department of education promulgated regulations regarding homeschooling. The regulations require that parents sign an agreement assuring the state that they will provide “regular and thorough instruction” for their children. Furthermore, the parents are required to keep a portfolio of educational materials to demonstrate that they are in fact providing a regular and thorough program. The superintendent or his designee may review the materials at the conclusion of each semester at a time and place mutually agreeable. Additionally, the parent must agree to allow a representative from the school to observe instruction at a time and place mutually agreeable. Fortunately, the home visit requirement was dropped, after HSLDA attorney Chris Klicka testified before the legislature as to its unconstitutionality along with several homeschool leaders.
The new regulations also allow for a homeschooler to avoid the requirements listed above if they operate under the supervision of a “school approved by the State Board of Education or operated by a bona fide church organization.” Such homeschoolers must be monitored and visited by the private school personnel.
Most school districts and parents seem to be encouraged that this procedure is better than in the past when the parent had to seek the approval of the local school district and was subject, in many cases, to arbitrary and capricious guidelines, thereby preventing many otherwise qualified homeschooling programs.
However, apparently Calvert County public schools are not too happy with the new regulations, and are attempting to practice the tactics of intimidation. A member family modified the statement of assurance and shortly thereafter was visited by a representative from the social services–protective services department. He indicated that the family was being charged with child neglect because the children were not in school. The mother informed the man that she was teaching her children at home and that she had sent in a notice of intent and the statement of assurance. The man seemed satisfied and said he would have to check with his supervisor to see if the case could be dropped. It was assumed that this would be the case.
However, two days later, the man showed up at the house again to discuss the issue of homeschooling. The question of why the form had been altered and why the mother did not want the instruction observed (this was the part of the form that was modified as the mother mistakenly believed the statement of assurance allowed the school officials to come into the home to observe instruction) was raised. The mother indicated she had nothing to hide and at a time and place mutually agreed upon, someone could view her instruction.
The man continued to pry into the family’s motivations for homeschooling and the educational background of the children, as well as the usual concerns about the children’s educational future if they should not have a diploma after they finish their homeschool program. He stayed for approximately 30 minutes and indicated that he did not feel there was any abuse and ultimately advised the mother a few days later that the case would be dismissed.
What actually happened here? We are not certain, but in all likelihood, when the school received the form altered, they wanted to make a point. They called social services and reported this family as not willing to have someone from the school observe instruction, so insinuating that there may be something wrong with the kids or why else would she be concerned? The fact of the matter is that this county has been hostile to homeschoolers in the past, taking them to court for truancy. If the school reported this, it is an obvious harassment tactic in that they used the social services department to do their “dirty work.” If there is a problem with the homeschool program, that should be addressed by pupil services of the school, involved with the issue. This theory is supported by the fact that the man who came out asked several times if the mother was having trouble with someone at the board of education.
When HSLDA attorney Mike Smith contacted the social services agent who called on our member, the man indicated that there was no evidence of child neglect. He would not disclose who made the complaint and tried to indicate it was a complaint of more than educational neglect. This seems suspicious and as a result, HSLDA will request an investigation from the state department of education regarding the possible abuse of the new regulations and the clear intent of the regulations which was to break down the hostility between the school districts and homeschoolers.