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Date:
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2/21/2002 5:02:53 PM
Scott A. Woodruff, Esq., Staff Attorney of HSLDA
Vermont--Calls urgently needed on VT House Bill 703

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From the HSLDA E-lert Service...
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February 21, 2002

Dear Vermont HSLDA Members and Friends,

House Bill 703 (H. 703), which would prevent the commissioner of
education from delaying home school enrollment, is at a critical
stage and needs your help.

REQUESTED ACTION

If your representative is on the House Education Committee (see list
below), please contact him or her immediately. Your message may be as
simple as:

"Please vote H. 703 out of committee without any Department of
Education amendments. Current law allows the commissioner of
education to delay home school enrollment by up to 85 days. This puts
innocent families in a situation where they could be subject to
criminal prosecution or child neglect even if they have done
everything the law requires. H. 703 solves this problem by treating
families as enrolled as soon as they file their notice."

BACKGROUND

In order for a bill to be enacted, it must pass out of committee this
week. The House Education Committee is moving very slowly. It may
ignore this good bill unless Vermont's home school families vocally
demonstrate their support for it.

As originally filed, H. 703 was a bill that dealt with limiting
social services investigations of home school families. The House
Education Committee subsequently changed the bill to deal with
preventing delays in home school enrollment. HSLDA supports the bill
in its present form.

The Department of Education has proposed unacceptable amendments that
would water down the bill and add extra layers of bureaucracy.

REASONS TO SUPPORT H. 703

1. In the great majority of states, parents can lawfully begin their
home school program without waiting for any government official to do
anything. In Vermont, however, if the commissioner of education does
not respond after a family files an enrollment notice, the family
cannot legally home school for 45 days. If the Department demands a
hearing within that time, the family can be delayed an additional 40
days. During this time, the family is subject to criminal prosecution
and child neglect proceedings. This is true even if the family has
fully complied with the law.

H. 703 allows families to be enrolled immediately upon filing their
notice. The commissioner can still demand a hearing, but the family
could home school legally unless there is a hearing and the hearing
officer orders them to stop.

2. Under current law, if the commissioner demands a hearing within
the 45 days, the burden of proof is on the family to prove they have
not violated the law. This is unjust and illogical. If the
commissioner calls a hearing after 45 days, on the other hand, the
burden of proof is on the commissioner to prove the family has not
complied with the law. H. 703 puts the burden of proof on the
commissioner regardless of when a hearing is called.

3. Under current law, if a family fails to file required information
with the notice of enrollment, the commissioner can demand that the
family supply additional information. If the family does not supply
the information, the family is guilty of violating two separate
sections of the law--the section that required the information in the
first place and the section that required the family to supply
additional information upon the demand of the commissioner.

This is important because a hearing officer can order a family to
stop a home school program if it has substantially failed to comply
with the law. Obviously, violating two sections of the statute is
closer to being a substantial failure to comply than violating a
single section of the statute.

If a family believes the commissioner is asking for information not
truly required under law, they must to be allowed to explain this
without fear of being accused of committing a crime. H. 703 solves
this problem by specifically allowing the family to submit an
explanation of why they are not sending in certain information.

This does not mean the family gets to pick and choose what
information to send. The same information that is required under
current law is required under H. 703. The "explanation" provision of
H. 703 simply allows the family to submit a good faith explanation
and thus avoid the chance of being charged with violating two
sections of the statute based on a single decision. H. 703 does not
change the current enforcement mechanism for families not in
compliance with the law.

CONTACT INFORMATION

If your state representative is listed below, please call immediately
to help this significant bill move forward toward enactment. You can
call 802-828-2231. This is a central message service for
representatives. If you prefer, you can send a fax to any
representative at 802-828-2424.

If you do not know who your state representative is (link to leg
toolbox, etc.)

HOUSE EDUCATION COMMITTEE

Rep. Howard Crawford of Burke, Chair
Rep. Jason Barney of Highgate, Vice-Chair
Rep. Jack Anderson of Woodstock
Rep. Erron Carey of Chester
Rep. George Cross of Winooski
Rep. Virginia Duffy of Rutland City
Rep. Kathy LaVoie of Swanton, Clerk
Rep. Alice Miller of Shaftsbury
Rep. Donny Osman of Plainfield
Rep. Neil Randall of Bradford
Rep. Susan Wheeler of Burlington

Thank you for supporting freedom in your state.

Sincerely yours,

Scott Woodruff
HSLDA Staff Attorney

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