March 15, 2016

School Breaks the Rules, Kids Get the Blame


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In February, a member family in Broward County received a letter demanding a portfolio review for two of their three children. All three children had been enrolled in a local public school that had been re-organized as a charter school at the beginning of the 2015–2016 school year. However, the family decided that the school wasn’t working for their children and they withdrew the children in early October.

Tj Schmidt TJ SCHMIDT Contact attorney for Florida

At the same time they were withdrawing their children from the charter school, the parents notified the district officials that they were establishing a home education program, and informed the local school officials that they had notified the school district. They indicated that their children’s last day of school would be in the second week of October. While the notice to establish a home education program is legally required to be submitted within 30 days after a family starts homeschooling, the parents submitted this notice to Broward County with all of the required information before their children’s last day in the charter school.

A couple of days later, the mother received a phone call from the charter school requesting that the children stay in the school until the end of November when their grading period would end. (Since the average daily attendance numbers are submitted to the Florida Department of Education in October, the school might have wanted to be able to count these children on their roster for state funding.) However, the family informed the school that they had already established their home education program with the district and they would not be keeping their children in the school any longer. It wasn’t until they received the letter from district officials in February that the family realized the charter school had ignored their request and had kept the children on the active roster.

Since the children were listed as being enrolled in the school until the end of November, but didn’t attend, they were classified as having “a pattern of nonattendance.” Under Florida law, when a child has demonstrated a pattern of nonattendance and is withdrawn to be educated at home, the district must conduct a portfolio review every 30 days. The review is conducted by a home education review committee made up of school officials and at least two homeschool parents who have been homeschooling for three or more years. The homeschool members of this committee are to be chosen by the family facing the portfolio review and are selected from a list of willing parents that the district is to maintain.

When our member family received the school district’s letter in February, HSLDA staff attorney Tj Schmidt immediately wrote a letter to the district demanding that the request for a portfolio review be dropped. Schmidt pointed out that our members’ children would not have demonstrated a pattern of nonattendance if the charter school had not refused to withdraw the children when the parents legally requested to do. Schmidt also advised the family to inform the charter school that its failure to remove their children was in violation of state law. The school agreed to correct the withdrawal date to correspond with the family’s notice establishing the home education program.

We expect the district to drop the portfolio review they had scheduled for April. However, if they attempt to push forward with this demand, we will be able to point out that they have failed to follow the law in setting up the portfolio review because the family has not been allowed to select any home education parents who are to serve on the committee. In fact, based upon our research within Broward County, it doesn’t appear the district has a list of parents willing to serve on a home education committee. The review conducted by the home education review committee is different from a general request for a portfolio review that can be requested by the superintendent with 15 day’s written notice. Given the school officials’ complete misunderstanding of the proper process to follow, our member family should have no further problems.