The Battle of the Forms
Homeschoolers, even in “good” states, should always be alert to the possibility of their state or school district attempting to overstep its sphere of authority established by law. Recently, HSLDA has encountered this attempt at stretching authority through the use of forms. In three states, homeschoolers have been required to complete forms which solicit more information from homeschooling families than the laws in these various states require.
Some Texas families, for example, have received a four-page form asking them questions ranging from the level of education completed by the parents to essay questions on how a parent teaches objectives and content.
According to the recent court decision in Leeper, et al. v. Arlington Independent School District, et al., homeschools are considered private schools in Texas. The court stated that a homeschool is a legally operating private school if the school-aged children involved are:
pursuing under the direction of a parent or parents . . . in a bona fide (good faith, not a sham or subterfuge) manner, a curriculum consisting of books, workbooks, other written materials . . . or any combination of the preceding from either 1) a private or parochial school which exists apart from the child’s home or 2) which has been developed or obtained from any source [as long as] said curriculum [is] designed to meet basic academic goals of reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics, and a study of good citizenship. . . .
If a homeschool fits this description, school districts in Texas are prohibited by the court from initiating charges against a family under § 4.25 of the education code and § 51.03 of the family code.
By sending out forms requesting more information than parents are required to give, some school districts are overstepping their authority under the law. School districts are perfectly within their rights to inquire as to whether the family is in compliance with the law, but nothing more. Parents who receive inquiries from school districts should respond with information required by law, i.e., a short letter assuring school officials that 1) they have established a private school in their home, 2) they are using a written curriculum, 3) the instruction in the school covers several subjects including the 5 required by law (list subjects), and 4) that the private school will be in session 170 days.
Forms are also being received by Georgia member families. Bartow County Board of Education sent out Form DE 1109 instructing families to return it by March 25, 1988. The instructions informed the families that completion of the form would enroll their children in the public school. In addition to this form, information on testing was sent to families with a cover letter insinuating that Georgia homeschoolers must give their children a California Achievement Test in the public school.
Actually Georgia law requires that parents submit a declaration of intent to home study to the superintendent by September 1, not March 25. The declaration must include the names and ages of the students, the location of the homeschool, and the time the parents designate as their school year. The only additional information parents must submit to the school district is monthly attendance records. Annual progress reports must be kept, and standardized testing is required every three years, but parents are not required to submit reports or test results to the local school district.
Therefore, families are under no legal obligation to fill out the form at this time, or have their children tested in the public school using the CAT test, nor is a homeschool child to be considered enrolled in the public school.
Finally, a number of Florida members have received Form 460018 from the Florida Department of Education asking questions ranging from the race of the children being instructed to the parents’ reasons for homeschooling.
While it is true that § 229.814 of the Florida Education Code requires private schools to complete an annual survey issued by the state department of education, HSLDA believes that this survey does not apply to homeschools following § 228.041 (the Home School Statute). Since the private school law, § 229.814, was passed in 1979 and the Home School Statute, § 228.041, was enacted in 1985, it is clear that the legislative intent was that they be considered totally separate statutes. Therefore, in matters pertaining to homeschooling, § 228.041 is the provision that must be consulted, not the formerly drafted private school section. It is for this reason that HSLDA believes the survey does not apply to homeschoolers operating under the Home School Statute.
According to § 232.02(4), a homeschool is defined as a “sequentially progressive instruction of a student in his home by his parent. . . .” Under § 228.041, homeschools have a separate form to complete. Additionally, parents may be certified, or they may agree to do the following: a) give names of homeschool students, b) maintain a log of studies and texts, and c) give the child a standardized test (which must be administered by a certified teacher), or have the child “evaluated by any other valid measurement tool as mutually agreed upon” between the superintendent and parent, or be evaluated by a certified teacher, or the child may take a state student assessment test.
Some Florida families are still operating under the Chapter 623 private school corporation provision, however. These families have little option but to fill out the state form for private schools.
Until there is an official statement form the Florida Department of Education concerning the applicability of the forms for those homeschools operating under § 228.041, HSLDA is recommending that families fill out the form partially. Members receiving the form should contact HSLDA for advice on how best to complete it.