Florida Holds the Line
In Florida, HSLDA's legal staff has resolved several disputes concerning the Florida home school law. One of the most common problems handled by HSLDA was the attempt by some school districts to demand testing only even though the home school law specifically allows for evaluations to be submitted in lieu of testing. Another problem faced by several HSLDA members were mandates by school superintendents to visit families' homes or set up meetings at the public school in order to inspect their portfolios. One school district insisted that the child attend the meeting so he could do a writing sample for the superintendent. In each situation, HSLDA advised its members to merely send in or drop off copies of their portfolio. Regarding testing, HSLDA convinced several school districts to accept evaluations pursuant to the statute in place of testing.
The other battle in Florida, as discussed in the Winter 1989 edition of The Home School Court Report is over 623 schools. As reported in that issue, the Deputy General Counsel of the Florida Board of Education issued an opinion determining that home schools could not operate as “satellites” of 623 private schools because the compulsory attendance law requires children to be in attendance at the private school. Several school districts have used this opinion to challenge the legality of home schools operating under a 623 private school.
In January of 1989, Chris Klicka spoke to a meeting of 623 and 617 private school leaders to discuss strategy regarding protecting this legal option. Klicka recommended against pursuing litigation because the risks were too great. Instead, he recommended that the private school leaders negotiate with each local school district as problems arise and appeal to their local autonomy. The leaders should stress the fact that their 623 and 617 schools meet all the requirements under the law and also that these types of schools have operated successfully for many years. Also when negotiating, they should emphasize the accountability system which must be followed by each home schooler operating under a 623 school. In addition, Klicka suggested that legislation or an Attorney General Opinion could be pursued if negotiation fails.
Thus far, negotiation with school districts has met with success. In Volusia County, Jim Werner and other 617 and 623 leaders met with the local school board attorney, the Director of Student Services, and the School Social Services Coordinator. The local school board attorney admitted that the opinion by the State School Board Deputy Counsel was not binding on them. After lengthy negotiations, the school district personnel were convinced that they must recognize the legal validity of home schools operating under 623 and 617 private schools. As a result, they issued a written opinion declaring such educational arrangements to be proper under the law:
It is the intention of this school district not to require parents of students enrolled in private schools, either incorporated under the Private School Corporation Law, Chapter 623, Florida Statutes, or otherwise listed as a non-public school with the Florida Department of Education, to comply with provisions of the home education program, Section 232.02(4)…In addition, please advise any of your parents whose student is currently enrolled in our district's home education program, that they may withdraw their child by notifying me of the school in which their child is enrolled.
Albert “Buz” Daniels who operates “The Lord Heritage Christian School, Inc.” was faced with a similar problem. The school district in St. Lucie County did not want to recognize the legitimacy of home schools operating as part of a 623 school and threatened at least two of them with prosecution. After counseling with the HSLDA legal staff, Daniels met with the school district personnel and gained a reprieve. The school district is presently waiting for further proof concerning the legality of such a school. HSLDA's executive director, Chris Klicka, is strategizing with Daniels on how to proceed.
These successful negotiations are models of how private school leaders must approach a skeptical school district. The battle to recognize the legitimacy of satellite schools can be won on a county by county basis.