Florida and Vermont Challenge Home Schools
In both Florida and Vermont, many groups of home schools have been operating as private schools under certain provisions of their state laws. Operating as private schools involves less state control of the home schools than the existing home school laws in each state. Although these educational arrangements have existed for several years, the State Departments of Education have issued recent memoranda denying the legality of these schools.
New Department Policy In Vermont
In Vermont, 16 VSA 165a allows for the operation of “reporting private schools.” These schools must file an annual report with the state which includes a statement of hours and days the school will be in session, a statement of the school’s objectives, and a statement that the school will provide a minimum course of study, maintain attendance records, and provide annual testing. No state approval is involved and no test scores or records need to be submitted to the state.
Although groups of home schools filing one report under this law meet all the written requirements of the law, the Vermont Department of Education has developed a new policy which does not believe that the Legislature ever intended this “satellite” educational arrangement. As a result, they have notified several of these reporting private schools that their home school parents will be turned in as truant to the local school district superintendents.
The Department has conceded, however, that each individual home school family could establish themselves as a separate reporting private school in lieu of complying with the home school law. However, this alternative may be short-lived since the Department is drafting legislation to prohibit home schools from operating as private schools altogether.
Attorney Chris Klicka is negotiating with the Vermont Department of Education to resolve the present conflict on behalf of the families who have already been threatened with truancy. The Department has already agreed to “hold off” while negotiations are taking place.
Florida Faces Controversy
In Florida, many home schools have been operating as parochial, religious, or denominational schools or as satellites of such schools pursuant to section 232.02. Usually, these schools merely file a charter with their local circuit court and fill out an annual data base form which includes enrollment, days of instruction, and subjects pursuant to Chapter 617 or 623 of the Private School Corporation Law of 1959. Occasionally, certain counties have challenged such educational arrangements, but have been unsuccessful.
On November 2, 1988, however, Barbara Harmon, Deputy General Counsel of the Florida Board of Education, issued a memorandum concerning home schools which operate as satellites of private schools. She concluded that home schools only have the option of complying with the home school law [section 232.02(4)]. Home schools, according to the memorandum, which operate as “satellites” are not in compliance with section 232.02 because the children are not actually in attendance at the religious, private school. In Florida, unlike Colorado, the law specifically mandates “attendance” rather than “enrollment” in the private school. (See article on Colorado in this issue of the Home School Court Report.)
Some school districts, armed with this new policy from the Florida Department of Education, are contacting families in their districts who are operating as satellites of private schools and threatening them with truancy actions. The HSLDA legal staff has been advising the families in these areas.
On January 27 and 28, 1989, attorney Chris Klicka traveled to Orlando, Florida, and spoke to administrators of 617 and 623 private schools who are covering home schools. The purpose of the meeting was to develop a state-wide strategy to protect this legal option for home schoolers. The results of the meeting will be discussed in greater detail in the next newsletter.
The resolution of this conflict is crucial since it is estimated that two-thirds of all home schoolers in Florida are operating as satellites of private schools.
In another recent development, Dunedin City sent an investigator out to a 623 school (which covered home school families) demanding that the school obtain an occupational license (for $45.00). The school was operating on a nonprofit basis and had no actual campus. HSLDA secured attorney Greg Boyer of Tampa to research the validity of this demand.
Boyer discovered that each City Manager is given virtually unlimited discretion to determine if the business license requirement may be waived for nonprofit organizations. However, in Dunedin, the individual seeking a waiver must submit proof of its nonprofit status. If a school has not specifically been designated as non-profit under 501(c)(3) by the IRS, the waiver is very difficult to acquire in some localities. In conclusion, in some cities, if approached by the city, a business license may be unavoidable for 623 schools.