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December 12, 2016

When Some Graduates are More Equal Than Others

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Tj Schmidt TJ SCHMIDT Contact attorney for New York

New York is known for its stringent homeschool regulations, but it does try to offer students a consolation for all this red tape. Homeschool graduates who meet certain requirements may ask their local public school superintendent for a letter substantiating their education.

One school district, however, recently sent a letter to homeschooling families declaring nearly impossible standards for obtaining such a document.

In October, families in the Horseheads Central School District received from the director of student services correspondence about their intent to homeschool. It included information about obtaining a letter of substantial equivalency, which can be used as verification of a student’s graduation in addition to the transcripts and diploma most homeschooling parents provide.

Higher Standards

In the letter, Horseheads stated that in order to receive an “equivalency letter” a homeschool student would have to:

  1. have all reports required by Section 100.10 of the Commissioners Regulations (individualized home instruction plan, four quarterly reports, and an annual assessment), and
  2. achieve a mastery level (score 85 or higher) on six of the Regents exams—English Language Arts, Algebra 1, Global History & Geography, U.S. History & Government, Living Environment (Life Science), and one of the Physical Science exams (Chemistry, Earth Science, or Physics).

The Board of Regents exams are New York’s end-of-course assessments for high school students. Once a public school student has completed the required high school credits and passed the minimum number of Regents exams, he is entitled to a New York state Regents Diploma. While homeschool students can take Regents exams, they can never earn a Regents Diploma unless they graduate from their local public school.

Concerned at this new burden being placed on homeschool students seeking a letter of substantial equivalency, several member families contacted Home School Legal Defense Association for guidance.

Clearly Unfair

Staff Attorney Tj Schmidt reviewed the letter and quickly concluded that these requirements exceed even what public school students must do to earn a Regents Diploma.

In fact, to get a Regents Diploma in New York, a public school student only needs to score a 65 or higher on five of the Regents exams: English Language Arts, any math exam, any social studies exam, any science exam, and one other Regents exam or assessment approved by the state. A score of 85 or higher is deemed to be at the “mastery level” with only a student who averages 90 or higher on required exams entitled to the “with honors” designation.

Schmidt wrote a letter to the Horseheads District of Student Services arguing that the new requirements for homeschool students requesting a letter of substantial equivalency go well beyond what is required by state law.

Schmidt pointed out that the purpose of Section 100.10 is to “establish procedures to assist school authorities … in meeting their responsibility of determining the … substantial equivalency of instruction being provided at home.” Therefore, any parent who has submitted all of the required documents in compliance of Section 100.10 for four years of high school has provided a substantially equivalent education to their child.

While the current regulation is not clear as to whether a letter of substantial equivalency must be provided to all homeschool students who have completed a home instruction program in compliance with New York law, HSLDA will vigorously assist any member family who seeks to obtain one for their child.

After she received Schmidt’s letter, the Director of Student Services wrote back, stating that “the criteria set forth (by their earlier letter) will be eliminated.”

We are hopeful that Horseheads will provide letters of substantial equivalency—and not just letters of “completion”—to homeschool graduates who request them.