The Washington Times
April 6, 2009

Washington Times Op-ed—Withdrawing Kid During Term OK

by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

One of the trends I am seeing in homeschooling that I didn’t see in the early years involves the timing of when families begin to homeschool. More and more students are being withdrawn during the school year.

In the 1980s, when the modern revival of homeschooling began to move into high gear, very few states recognized homeschooling as a legal option. Many parents were homeschooling underground and consequently avoiding authorities. The only thing that kept many families from being prosecuted or pursued for educational neglect was the fact that the school district was not aware the children existed. The idea of removing a child who was already enrolled in the public school in order to homeschool was not realistic as it would result in immediate action on the part of the school district.

For example, in the late 1980s, the Home School Legal Defense Association represented a family from a small town in Iowa that decided to begin homeschooling their son in the middle of the school year. The 12-year-old boy had become despondent because he had been labeled as learning disabled and the taunts of his peers that followed. He refused to go to school. His mother had to physically take him to school, yet he was not learning at school and his mental and physical health were deteriorating. When the mother informed the principal she had no choice but to homeschool her son, he responded, “Over my dead body.”

Fortunately, we were able to convince the county attorney not to prosecute the family and they successfully finished the school year at home and continued homeschooling through high school.

HSLDA has asserted for 25 years that homeschooling is a fundamental right guaranteed by the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. That being the case, parents should not have to ask permission to homeschool their children, nor should they have to start homeschooling at any one particular time in the year.

An additional challenge some homeschoolers face when removing a child from a public school is the issue of special education. Almost 6 million children and youths participate in special education programs in public schools. As a result of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act passed in 1975 by Congress, every child in a public school is guaranteed a free and appropriate public education. Under this act, schools are charged with the responsibility of actually finding and offering an evaluation to all children who may have special needs.

Two issues can arise when a family decides to homeschool a child who has been involved in special education in a public school. First, some school districts take the position that because the child has special needs and is enrolled in a special education program, the child can’t be homeschooled. This is not true. In fact, more and more parents are finding that the one-on-one tutorial method of instruction that occurs in the homeschool is better able to address the special needs of the child.

The second issue is whether the public school has the authority to require continued individual education plan evaluations even though the child is not enrolled, and the parents are not requesting services from the public school. That question was resolved in a case handled by HSLDA on behalf of the Fitzgerald family in Camden, Mo. The Federal Court ruled the school district could not mandate a special needs evaluation without the parents’ consent for a child removed from public school to be homeschooled.

The bottom line is parents need to know they have the right to remove their children from public school at any time. This does not mean parents won’t be challenged by some school districts and given misinformation, but the day is over when parents should be fearful of removing their children from public school so they can provide them with an education that is proving year after year to produce graduates who are better educated and socialized than the average public school student.

Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at (540)338-5600; or send email to media@hslda.org.

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