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January 20, 2012

Truant Officer Sends 5-Page Questionnaire

Barb Macy (name changed to protect her privacy) withdrew her son from Sumner County public schools, where he was not thriving, to homeschool him. The school principal promptly threatened to report her to the prosecutor.

Within days, a truant officer sent her a troubling letter on “Sumner County Community Corrections” letterhead. It said: “So-called ‘home schooling’ is legal, provided that the legal requirements for operating a home school are met. The enclosed questionnaire will help me determine that.”

The enclosed five-page questionnaire asked for the names, dates of all high school, college and other educational institutions attended, and diplomas, degrees and certificates awarded for all the child’s teachers. It asked for the names of all other children in the family and how they were being educated.

It asked whether the homeschool was accredited, whether it was registered with the state, and asked for the registration number. It asked for hours and dates of instruction, subjects taught, and the curriculum used, whether there were lesson plans, and how the child was to be evaluated. It asked for copies of the lesson plans and evaluations.

It asked whether the child had special needs, had been tested for special needs, or was receiving special needs services, and the name and qualifications of the person providing the services. “Use additional paper if necessary,” it added, presumably to subtly remind parents that short answers might be deemed unacceptable.

Finally, it asked the parents to “solemnly affirm” they understood that a jail term of one year or fine of $2,500, or the state taking control of their children, or all of the above, could follow if they were in violation of the laws.

Members of HSLDA, the Macys asked for our help. HSLDA Senior Counsel Scott Woodruff and local attorney Austin Kent Vincent collaborated to write a short, courteous letter to the truant officer. It simply stated that the child was attending a private school registered with the Kansas Board of Education, and provided the name of the school.

Kansas does not at this time have a statute that specifically addresses homeschooling. This creates a window for the occasional dramatic reaction, as in the Sumner County situation—a county with a long history of hostility toward homeschool families.

However, in this case, the family never heard from the truant officer again.