PA Victory May Come in Legislature
HB 2501, a home schooling bill introduced by Representative Ron Cowell, was unanimously passed out of the House Education Committee on June 28, 1988. While this bill is by no means perfect, the Parent Home Educators of Pennsylvania and HSLDA believe it is a workable solution to Pennsylvania's problems.
NEW HOME SCHOOL BILL
If passed, this bill would transform Pennsylvania from the worst state to one of the best states for home schooling. It would no longer be an “approval state.” Parents would be required to send in a notarized affidavit each year, providing standard information such as the parent’s names and address, names and ages of the children, and an assurance that the subjects required by law would be taught that year. Parents would also be required to maintain (and provide at the end of each year) a portfolio of records and provide the superintendent with the results of a standardized achievement test or a written evaluation of the child’s progress composed by a licensed psychologist, a certified teacher from any state in the U.S., or a non-certified private school teacher. If the superintendent has probable cause to believe that an education is not taking place, he may request to see the portfolio of records during the school year. Otherwise parents will only be in contact with school officials at the beginning and end of each school year.
While the local superintendent does not have “approval” authority under this proposed legislation, there are provisions for dealing with actual cases of educational neglect. After reviewing the test results or written evaluation, if a superintendent believes that “an education is not taking place,” he can notify the family and the State Department of Education of his opinion. The family then has 20 days to provide additional documentation of the child’s progress. If this is also insufficient, the superintendent can allow the family another 30 days or he can inform the family that, in his opinion, education is not taking place. The family then has 10 days to request a due process hearing or enroll their child in the public school. If a due process hearing is sought, the Commissioner of Education will appoint an impartial hearing officer (this person cannot be an employee of the school district or the Department of Education). The hearing officer can then require the parents to have the child tested using the TELLS test. If the child’s score is unsatisfactory, the hearing officer can require that the parents implement a 6 month remedial program or, if he determines that education is taking place but the documentation is lacking, he can offer suggestions to the family and determine that the family is in compliance with law and are indeed providing an education for their children. If the hearing officer determines that an education is not taking place he can order the parents to enroll the child in a public school for one year.
It seems unlikely under this legislative proposal that a superintendent or a hearing officer could actually prove that an education was not taking place. HSLDA believes only those families who are indeed not providing an education for their children would be in danger of incurring such a ruling.
In the days just prior to the Committee vote on this legislation, several amendments were contemplated. One of the most significant amendments was offered by Representative Friend. The original bill specifically stated that home schooled children with “special needs” must be taught by a teacher certified in special education. Mr. Friend’s amendment makes it possible for non-certified parents to teach special needs children. The Friend amendment allows for home education for special education students if the home school program addresses the specific needs of the student and is approved by a state certified special education teacher, or a licensed clinical or certified school psychologist.
This amendment was adopted and the bill was passed out of Committee unanimously. The House is expected to pass the bill, but Pennsylvania home schoolers are uncertain whether the Senate will do likewise. HSLDA members living in Pennsylvania are encouraged to write their state senators concerning this legislation.
In the meantime, Pennsylvania families continue to face truancy charges. On July 7th and 8th, Michael Farris represented the Zatolochenko family in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. The primary defense (and the one in which the judge expressed the most interest) was the vagueness argument. Farris presented the judge with over 60 different home school policies from school districts across the state with requirements ranging from attendance records and progress reports to state teacher certification of home schooling parents. The judge has promised to rule on August 16.
Likewise, Chris Klicka represented the Hull family on July 13th in the Butler County Court of Common Pleas. This family was first charged with truancy in the fall of 1986. The issues were testing in the public school and unannounced home visits. The family would not agree to either of these stipulations by the school district, so the charges began. Shortly thereafter, the school district began a dependency action against the family to take the Hull’s child from their home. With this new threat, the Hulls capitulated to the school district’s demand for testing in the public school and home visits, and the charges ceased (although the dependency action is still pending and, at press time, HSLDA learned that the school solicitor has reactivated the dependency action against the Hulls). When the school district reiterated its demands for the 1987–88 school year and the Hulls refused at allow home visits and testing in the public school, the truancy charges resumed.
On July 13, Chris Klicka and HSLDA’s local counsel attorney John Sparks of Grove City, were prepared to argue the case on its constitutional merits, but the judge ordered the attorneys from both sides into his chambers to discuss a technical question. The court was to rule on approximately 50 charges of truancy filed against the family. The Judge desired to discuss the timeliness of filing the appeals. A law passed in the 1930’s requires that the accused file an appeal within 5 days, while a new law passed in 1986 states that the accused has 30 days to file the appeal. Moreover, all of the fifty charges in question state that the accused has 30 days to file an appeal. Klicka and Sparks argued this point for over three hours in the Judge’s chambers, nevertheless, the Judge dismissed the appeals for not being timely filed (even though they were filed within 30 days). On the other hand, he did dismiss approximately thirty of the fifty charges because they were improperly filed. Therefore, nothing was resolved on the constitutional issues, and HSLDA is appealing the decision to the Superior Court on the grounds that the 1986 law takes precedent over the older statute, and, therefore, all appeals were filed in a timely fashion.
Another family, the Ehmanns, from the Philadelphia School District, used public services last year for their learning disabled child. This year the family elected to home school instead of placing the child in public school. According to the school district, learning disabled children fall under the requirements of the 1986 federal legislation known as the Education of the Handicapped Act (EHA). Therefore, even though the family wanted no public services and were involved in a private home school program with their son, the family was told by the school district that their son was still under the jurisdiction of the EHA.
In February, Chris Klicka sent a letter to the school district explaining that the Ehmanns’ child was being instructed privately, and therefore, the EHA procedures no longer applied. The school district requested an administrative hearing in the matter but HSLDA submitted a motion to dismiss the hearing, contending that this administrative procedure established by the EHA did not apply to the Ehmanns because they desired no public service under the EHA. HSLDA’s motion was denied and a hearing date was set for May 31st. On June 20th, the hearing officer ruled that the public educational program designed by the School District of Philadelphia was “appropriate” and should therefore be implemented.
Chris Klicka has appealed the ruling to the Secretary of Education, arguing that the hearing officer has no jurisdiction to dictate how the Ehmanns privately educate their child. Interestingly, HSLDA has received written confirmation from the U.S. Department of Education that EHA requirements and procedures do not apply to families who privately educate their children utilizing no public assistance. HSLDA has sent a copy of this official letter to the Pennsylvania Secretary of Education.
YARIAN AND BROWN TRIALS
Another case, in the Wellsboro Court of Common Pleas, involving the Yarian and Brown families, has been “indefinitely postponed.” All the briefs have been filed in the case, and at a preliminary hearing attended by Chris Klicka the judge seemed very interested in the vagueness argument. However, the school district decided to postpone the actual trial in order to give the legislature time to act on the pending legislation and to wait for the federal judge to rule in the Jeffery case.
HSLDA has appeals pending in four other Pennsylvania counties, but no trial dates have been set. Please pray that the legislation will pass or a favorable decision will be handed down in the federal Jeffery v. O’Donnell suit before these additional cases are brought to trial.