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February 16, 2016

Homeschool children threatened with public school.

HSLDA Reveals it’s Actually Officials Who are Violating Law

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In early January a member family in the Berne-Knox-Westerlo Central School District was surprised to receive a letter from their school district that contained an ominous warning. Dr. Timothy Mundell, the district superintendent, wrote: “I have the right to request that your children return to [public] school immediately.”

YOUR ATTORNEY Tj Schmidt Tj Schmidt

What was the reason for this threat? Missing paperwork.

The superintendent claimed that after the district sent the family a copy of the homeschool regulations and an individualized home instruction plan (IHIP) form in September, they never received anything for the family’s two children. However, our member family had actually submitted their IHIP for both children back in August. They had also submitted all of the required quarterly reports as they had indicated they would in their IHIP.

Under New York law, parents can submit their IHIP by August 15 or within four weeks from the receipt of the packet from the school district, whichever comes later. In this situation our member took the initiative and submitted the IHIP even before they had received the packet.

Missed Deadlines

When a parent submits the IHIP, the district has 10 business days to respond. In practice, however, it is not uncommon for New York school districts to write back only when they believe an IHIP is not in compliance.

As a result, many homeschool parents have adopted the attitude that “no news is good news.” If two weeks pass after a parent submits his or her IHIP and there is no response from the local school district, this silence is reasonably assumed to mean the family’s paperwork was considered satisfactory.

After not hearing from their school district for over four months, our member family naturally concluded that the IHIPs for their children were in compliance. However, after receiving the letter from the superintendent, they realized that the district had actually lost or misplaced their original IHIPs. The family immediately resubmitted them.

The superintendent wrote back a week later. He stated that the IHIPs were “deficient and must be revised” because they failed to provide “a list of syllabi, detailed curriculum materials, textbooks, and plans of instruction.” His letter gave the family 15 days to submit revisions.

While the family had listed their curriculum materials, which were primarily grade-appropriate Alpha & Omega LIFEPACs in various subjects, the family decided also to provide the scope and sequence for these materials.

Yet just a week later the superintendent sent a third letter demanding that they turn over the LIFEPACs for both children so he could “see that the curriculum, syllabi, textbooks, and plans for instruction meet the requirements.”

HSLDA Is There

Recognizing that they had already provided more than was necessary, the family contacted HSLDA for help.

Staff Attorney Tj Schmidt immediately sent a letter to the superintendent explaining that the family was in compliance with New York law.

Schmidt also pointed out that the superintendent had misstated state law several times. Homeschool parents are not required to list “detailed curriculum materials,” just curriculum materials. More troubling was the fact that the superintendent substituted the word “and” instead of “or” into the regulations in his last two letters. This implied that a parent must submit all of this information instead of being able to choose between one of four options (syllabi, curriculum materials, textbooks, or a plan of instruction) for each subject.

Finally, Schmidt informed the superintendent that the district was actually in violation of the law, since the family had submitted their IHIP back in August. The first letter they received about their IHIP was well past the 10 business days the district has to object to an IHIP.

There is no excuse for a district to misplace or lose documents that a parent submits. But it does occasionally happen. That’s why we always recommend that a parent keep records of what and when they submit required documents to school officials. While some parents send their documents via delivery confirmation or certified return receipt, this is only really necessary if your district has a habit of losing your documents.

We expect that our member family will have no further difficulties—especially since there is no legal justification for the review of their curriculum that the superintendent made in his last letter. They should be receiving confirmation soon that everything is in compliance.