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House Bill 703: Home Study Enrollment
Rep. Neil Randall, (R) Orange-3 (1).
H.B. 703 would have established that a child in a home study program is considered "enrolled immediately upon filing an enrollment notice."
In the great majority of states, parents can lawfully begin their home school program without waiting for any government official to do anything. In Vermont, however, if the Department of Education does not respond after a family files an enrollment notice, the family cannot legally home school for 45 days. If the department demands a hearing within that time, the family can be delayed an additional 40 days. During this time, the family is subject to criminal prosecution and child neglect proceedings. This is true even if the family has fully complied with the law.
Despite overwhelming support from the home schooling community, the House Education Committee refused to "untable" draft one of House Bill 703, leaving it to die. The committee instead tried to push draft nine, which would have encouraged judges under some circumstances to punish truant home schoolers more strictly than truant children enrolled in a public or private school.
Because such discriminatory treatment would be completely unacceptable, HSLDA recommended opposing draft nine. It subsequently died as well.
H.B. 703 would have allowed families to enroll immediately upon filing their notice. The Vermont Department of Education can still demand a hearing, but the family could home school legally unless a hearing officer ordered them to stop.
Under current law, if the department of education demands a hearing during the 45 days, the burden of proof is on the family to prove they have not violated the law. This is unjust and illogical. If the commissioner calls a hearing after 45 days, the burden of is on the commissioner to prove the family has not complied with the law. H.B. 703 would have put the burden of proof on the commissioner regardless of when a hearing is called.
Under current law, if a family fails to file required information with the notice of enrollment, the commissioner can demand that the additional information be supplied. If the family does not supply the information, the family is guilty of violating two separate sections of the law (the section that required the information in the first place and the section that required the family to supply additional information upon the demand of the commissioner). The commissioner has often, however, demanded information that is not truly required under law. Families need to have the right to offer their good faith explanation as to why they are not providing certain information without fear of being judged guilty of committing two wrongs. H.B. 703 would have solved this problem by specifically allowing the family to submit an explanation of why they are not sending in certain information. This does not mean the family gets to pick and choose what information to send. The same information that is required under current law would have been required under H.B. 703. If a family fails to supply required information under the existing law or H.B. 703, the family has not complied with the law. The "explanation" provision of H.B. 703 simply allowed the family to submit a good faith explanation and thus avoid the chance of being charged with violating two separate sections of the statute. This is important because a hearing officer can order a family to stop a home school program if it has substantially failed to comply with the law.
H.B. 703 would not have changed the current enforcement mechanism. All methods of enforcing the law that exist under the current law would have been retained under H.B. 703.
HSLDA actively supported this legislation.
Our vision for greater liberty is long-term. Home schoolers did not lose any freedoms in the Vermont legislature this year. We are grateful for this. Although we will pause, we will not rest. We will continue to work until Vermont's home school law is improved. Next year home schoolers will be stronger and better organized than we were this year. Perhaps the November elections will bring lawmakers to office who understand the need for reform.
The defeat of H.B. 703 is an example of why we home schoolers must renew our conviction to reform overly restrictive home education laws. We must seek greater freedom for the Vermont home schoolers of today as well as for future generations.
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3/1/2002 Vermont--H. 703 May Pass Deadline