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January 9, 2017

U.S. Virgin Islands: Activists Propel Homeschool-Friendly Bill

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HSLDA's Scott Woodruff, far right, meets with Sen. Novelle E. Francis Jr. and Amy Herrick, president of U.S. Virgin Islands Homeschoolers.
HSLDA’s Scott Woodruff, far right, meets with Sen. Novelle E. Francis Jr. and Amy Herrick, president of U.S. Virgin Islands Homeschoolers.

HSLDA’s Scott Woodruff, far right, meets with Sen. Novelle E. Francis Jr. and Amy Herrick, president of U.S. Virgin Islands Homeschoolers.

The legislature of the U.S. Virgin Islands has voted unanimously to approve a new homeschool law! The bill, which passed the legislature on December 20, now goes to Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp’s desk for his signature.

Since 1998, the U.S. Virgin Islands has had a very workable set of homeschool regulations. In 2014, however, the Board of Education began taking steps to change the regulations in a way that would have dramatically increased the burden on families.

Working with homeschool leaders, HSLDA opposed the changes and sent e-lerts urging local homeschooling families to contact their representatives. Homeschooling families attended hearings, testified, and spoke to board members—all to no avail. The board responded by actually making their proposed regulations even more harsh!

Homeschool leaders banded together to create a new organization, U.S. Virgin Island Homeschoolers (USVIH). USVIH and HSLDA worked as a team to draft a bill that would move responsibility for governing homeschooling from the unresponsive board to the legislature while maintaining the broad structure of the familiar 1998 regulations.

With Senator Novelle E. Francis, Jr. agreeing to sponsor the legislation, Bill 31-0391 was filed last September. On October 4, a legislative committee heard testimony on the bill and voted overwhelmingly in favor of moving it forward. On November 18, the Rules Committee heard the bill and made a number of changes. The bill was approved by the committee of the whole on November 30, with the final legislative vote coming on December 20.

As we await the governor’s signature, this is an appropriate time to explain some aspects of the bill, which we expect to be law very soon. You may read the full text of the bill here.

  1. The Board of Education is totally out of the loop—they have no further responsibility for homeschooling. The 1998 regulations are gone, and the board’s harsh proposed regulations will never become effective.
     
  2. Parents and persons in a parent-like relationship can homeschool their children.
     
  3. Each year by September 1, the homeschooling family must file a “notice of intent to provide home instruction.” English, math, science and social studies are the required subjects. No particular form is required. A notice that does not comply with the law can result in enforcement action against a family.
     
  4. The commissioner of education will annually request a portfolio of each child’s work. Enforcement action may be taken against families who do not comply. Parents must keep a copy of each portfolio until the child receives a high school diploma.
     
  5. The commissioner “may” interview the child in connection with the annual portfolio review. However, we believe this requirement is unconstitutional. HSLDA members should contact us immediately if any representative of the commissioner’s office seeks to interview a child.
     
  6. The commissioner may request that a child take a standardized test in grades 3, 5, 8 and 11. However, it is parents, not the commissioner, who may choose which test to employ.
     
  7. A high school diploma the parent issues after a child completes a homeschool program in compliance with the law must be acknowledged by all U.S. Virgin Islands government agencies. The parent must file a copy of the diploma with the Department of Education. After receipt of the diploma, the child is exempt from compulsory school attendance. The department must maintain the diploma and all other homeschool records to the same extent as public school students. All information must be protected as confidential.

In some respects, the bill is not as favorable as the 1998 regulations. For example, the 1998 regulations did not mandate any particular subjects or empower the government to demand a standardized test.

In other ways, however, it is more favorable. For example, the 1998 regulations allowed two portfolio reviews per year, but the bill allows only one. The regulations required that families use a specific form for their notice of intent, but the bill does not. The regulations did not protect the status of a parent-issued diploma, but the bill does. The regulations required that families identify the number of days and hours of instruction; the bill does not.

Without question, the bill is far better than the board’s proposed regulations. While the board gave its own approval to the regulations on December 4, 2015, they never became effective because the governor (at the request of USVIH) never signed them. When governor Mapp signs the bill, the 1998 regulations will become void and the pending 2015 regulations will become a nullity.