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November 1, 2016
District Majors on Families’ Minor Subjects
Protect your family.
Parents who homeschool in New York submit to a fair amount of scrutiny from public school officials. But when one particular district kept asking for details about art and music instruction, several families felt they had crossed the line from oversight to harassment.
The incident began when the Watertown City School District home school principal (the official tasked with overseeing home education) sent a letter to these families inquiring about their art and music programs. Most found it odd that these subjects were the only ones being questioned.
After contacting local representatives of the statewide Loving Education at Home (LEAH) support group, the families realized that they were not alone in the extra scrutiny of their individualized home instruction plans (IHIPs). So they contacted HSLDA Staff Attorney Tj Schmidt for help.
Schmidt gathered information about what each family was teaching and what they had submitted to the district. Under New York law, a parent must provide a list of the syllabi, curriculum materials, textbooks, or plan of instruction for each subject.
No Sudden Changes
One of the unusual things about Watertown’s sudden interest in art and music was that all of these families being questioned had submitted homeschool paperwork for several years. No one reported making any sudden changes to the material or plan of instruction. In fact, a few of the families were using a local private Christian school for art and music.
When one of the families asked why this information was being requested they were told the district wanted this information to see “what [the child] will be working on and what to expect to see on his/her quarterly report.”
Schmidt wrote several emails informing the Watertown’s attorney that half a dozen families were being told to submit additional information. He pointed out that it appeared to be harassment since the primary focus was on art and music, subjects which did not normally receive a lot of attention.
Over the next few weeks Schmidt continued communicating with the district’s attorney about New York homeschool law, the Questions and Answers on Home Instruction (published by the New York State Education Department), and the problems homeschooling families were having. Schmidt also pointed out that under New York law the more detailed information was to be included after the instruction was completed, in each quarterly report.
While a few families ended up providing a little additional information, either directly to the district or through HSLDA, we were able to persuade the district to accept the original information provided on art and music.
The district’s attorney stated that the home school principal had only been in the position for two years and was motivated to fulfill his responsibilities, but we believe his demands were over-zealous and unnecessary. We will continue to monitor Watertown but expect the district to be more moderate in the future.