You have heard the old slogan, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” In a limited sense, this is what seems to be happening in California as more and more public and private schools begin instituting independent study programs for home schoolers. Some county departments of education are encouraging local school districts not only to initiate independent study programs (ISP), but if the program isn’t available in their district to allow interdepartmental transfers to school districts that do have independent study programs.
What is the motivation? Although we cannot fully guess the motives (and should not try), statements by some public school officials give us one answer: broadening the independent study programs for home schoolers benefits the local school district financially.
Each student enrolled in the public school’s ISP can be counted as enrolled full-time in the public school, and the school districts received the “Average Daily Attendance” money for that student. California’s financial problems are wreaking havoc with the budgetary needs of the individual school districts and the county departments of education. Any additional source of income is welcome.
The public schools’ ISP trend has created some interesting ramifications. Some districts do not stop at offering an ISP; some are trying to intimidate home schoolers into using their program. Families who have filed a private school affidavit (stating that they have established a private school in their home) have received letters from their district, stating that private schools in the home are illegal. These letters also contain information that the school offers an independent study program. The obvious implication is that the public school’s ISP is the only legal home education program that will be recognized in that school district.
Some school districts have instituted a “home-schooling check” on private school affidavits. If the affidavit lists less than five children, the district assumes that this is, in fact, a home school. These families are then requested to fill out and return a form designed with the express intent of determining whether the students enrolled in that school are exempt from public school attendance.
HSLDA contends first that this is discriminatory because it isolates private schools with five students or less for investigation. Second, it fails to recognize the limits public school district contacts with private schools. Districts investigating truancy complaints about a particular student may contact the private school to verify the student’s attendance only.
School districts justify their intrusion into private schools by asserting that they are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that children in private schools are receiving appropriate education. Specifically, school districts are asserting that they are charged with the responsibility of evaluating whether the teachers in the private school are “capable of teaching.” Therefore, the forms home schoolers are receiving request information about the name of the teacher and that person’s qualifications.
The Education Code does not give authority to the public school district to evaluate teacher qualifications of the private school. This is the function of the private school administrator. The language in Education Code §48222, which defines the authority of the school district with regard to private schools, specifically says that a verification “shall not be construed as an evaluation, recognition, approval, or endorsement of any private school or course.” This language limits the school district’s authority to verifying that a specific child alleged truant from a public school is in attendance at a private school that has filed a private school affidavit. Since the private school affidavit is filed under penalty of perjury, and the private school administrator swears to the fact that the state requirements are being met, there is a presumption that the private school is legitimately established.
Members of the public school establishment are disturbed by their lack of control over students enrolled in private schools. Sources who have contact with the California State Department of Education report that legislation to amend the private school provision and eliminate the small private school could be in the planning stage.
This would not be the first attempt to restrict the small private school. Several years ago an attempt was made to introduce a bill which would have required private school teachers to be certified and would have defined a private school as consisting of 10 or more students. Fortunately, the legislator decided not to introduce the bill after consultation with Home School Legal Defense Association, Roy Hanson of Family Protection Ministries (Californians’ advocate in Sacramento for home education), and other home school leaders.
In HSLDA’s opinion, any proposal by a public school or department of education official to change the private school law should be viewed with much caution. If, in fact, the proposal of legislation to modify the private school law is imminent, it will be necessary for the home schoolers in California to mobilize quickly and in an extremely organized manner. In the past, Roy Hanson of Family Protection Ministries has been a catalyst for that mobilization.
HSLDA will be working with Roy on any legislation introduced or proposed in 1993 which would negatively affect home education in California. You may be sure that we will call upon the home schoolers of California to join the fight to maintain the freedoms of home educators throughout the state as the need arises.