Progress in Ohio
There is encouraging news coming out of the Buckeye State regarding the type of guidelines the superintendents are following to determine if parents homeschooling their children are qualified to teach the required branches of study. In the past, some superintendents have insisted upon a college degree or greater before they would excuse children being taught at home from public school attendance. However, two superintendents who had initially indicated that they required a college degree as a minimum qualification requirement, have recently changed their policies.
In both cases, the superintendents were provided with a memorandum of law prepared by Michael Smith. The memorandum explains that there is no legal requirement in Ohio that a homeschooling instructor possess a college degree. Additionally, the memorandum provides the legal basis for excusing homeschooling parents seeking a religious exemption when the parents’ educational level does not meet the superintendent’s guidelines.
The religious exemption is based upon the reasoning of the Ohio Supreme Court in the case of State v. Whisner, 47 Ohio St. 2d. 181, 351 N.E. 2d, 750 (1976), and Ohio Attorney General’s opinion 79-056. The legal principle of these decisions has been followed in Hudson v. Findlay City Schools, Hancock County Court of Common Pleas, case no. 86-0086, March 18, 1986; and Dodds v. Stephan Stuart, Superintendent, Marion County Court of Common Pleas, case no. 27285, February 4, 1988.
Victory in the Dodds case
The Dodds family, plaintiffs in the above entitled case, are members of HSLDA and were represented by Michael Smith and assisted by local attorney Robert Lynch of Cleveland. Judge Jenkins stated in his opinion that the superintendent could not deny the family from teaching their children at home merely because the parents did not have college degrees. The court ruled that the parents must be given the opportunity to teach their children at home because of their religious beliefs, and to continue as long as they were “successful.” The court would not define what “successful” meant, however.
The academic results indisputably demonstrate that children taught at home, regardless of the educational level of the parents, are “successful” and score above average on nationally-normed standardized achievement tests. Mrs. Inge Pohl, Director of Education for the Advanced Training Institute of America (a nationwide homeschool program), testified at trial in North Dakota that in testing 5,000 youngsters pursuant to their program, they found no significant correlation between the parents’ education and their children’s success in testing. The average scores for the youngsters enrolled in their program fell between the 92nd percentile and the 99th percentile.
HSLDA believes that as more and more open-minded superintendents are educated to the above evidence, there will be fewer and fewer who require a college degree as a minimum educational requirement to teach one’s child at home in Ohio.
State board of education appoints committee
The courts are very uncomfortable in deciding issues involving educational policy and the level of education that one should have in order to qualify to teach at home. Several judges have expressed their displeasure with the present state of Ohio law in this area and have urged the legislature and the state board of education to resolve the vagueness in the statute by enacting specific guidelines for superintendents to follow. Perhaps promoted by these statements, the state board of education (SBE) has established a 19-member committee, the Citizens Advisory Committee on Home Schooling, for the purpose of coming up with “fair and equitable” recommendations regarding the homeschool issue in Ohio. Unfortunately, the makeup of the committee is somewhat unfair, since it contains only five homeschooling advocates. However, there is real hope that something constructive could come out of this committee, and the homeschooling committee members are requesting prayer for wisdom.
Larry Manahan’s homeschool bill (H.B. 663) is still alive. However, the education committee chairman has indicated that since the SBE has moved forward by appointing the above committee to make a proposal regarding homeschooling, the bill will be placed on hold. The legislation still merits response from homeschoolers to their legislators urging them to support the bill. CHEO can provide the names of the members of the education committee for correspondence purposes.
Problems with “approval”
The primary issue discussed at the first meeting of the Citizens Advisory Committee on Home Schooling was approval by superintendents of homeschool programs. Some from the professional education community took the position that homeschoolers must seek approval prior to homeschooling. The Schmidt case, which has been discussed in previous newsletters, is quoted by them for the proposition that prior approval is required. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that because this homeschool family had not gone through the excuse process outlined in ORC § 3321.04(A)(2), the family could not defend a subsequent criminal prosecution for truancy by raising constitutional defenses such as free exercise of religion and parents’ rights.
The court stated that because the family had not presented a “proposal” or “application” to home educate explaining their religious objections, they were forbidden from raising those issues for the first time as a defense to a criminal prosecution. Obviously, HSLDA contends that the court was wrong in its holding.
Section 3321.04 provides that excuses from future attendance or past absences from public school attendance may be granted by the superintendent where the child is being instructed at home by a person qualified to teach the branches taught in the public school. Nowhere in the statute is the word “approval” used. If the superintendent refuses to grant an excuse, the parents are to be advised of the refusal, the grounds for the refusal, and the right to appeal the decision to the court of common pleas. Throughout this excuse process by the superintendent, the parents are protected by the procedural due process protections outlines in the Ohio Administrative Code. If the superintendent is going to deny the excuse, he should provide a hearing to the parents giving them an opportunity to be heard and to make a record to be reviewed in the court of common pleas. (This procedure was followed in the aforementioned Dodds case.)
At the common pleas level, parents may raise all of the defenses they desire, as the Schmidt holding does not apply to this procedure because the parents have provided a notice of intent to homeschool (or a “proposal” or “application”) to the superintendent. Since the code allows for past as well as future absences from public school attendance, in our view, prior approval is not a part of the Ohio statutory scheme. However, if a family is contacted by the school district and challenged for a child’s lack of attendance in a public or approved private school, the Schmidt case mandates that the parents submit a “proposal” or “application” for homeschooling, providing enough information for the superintendent to make a decision whether or not to excuse the absence from attendance at the public school. If one does not submit a “proposal” or “application” and is subsequently prosecuted for truancy, he or she would be barred from presenting any constitutional defenses at the trial.