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January 30, 2017

When Keeping Good Records isn’t Enough

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Tj Schmidt TJ SCHMIDT Contact attorney for New York

The fact that some homeschooling families in the paperwork-happy state of New York keep better records than county school officials would be amusing—if it weren’t for the troubling legal ramifications.

Earlier this winter, several member families in the Mount Vernon City School District contacted Home School Legal Defense Association because local officials had told them, “We have no prior records that you are homeschooling.” One of these families has been educating their children in Mount Vernon for over nine years.

We got involved because missing paperwork can escalate into serious headaches for homeschooling families. Public school officials in some New York counties consider missing homeschool records as sufficient cause for asking social workers to investigate.

“No prior records”

In Mount Vernon, the problems began in June when one family submitted their notice of intent for the 2016–2017 school year, along with the year-end evaluation and the fourth quarter report.

A week later, the family received a letter from the director of student services confirming that the district had received the fourth quarter report and annual assessment—but not the notice of intent. The director added that the office had no other homeschool records for that family.

The family’s longtime compliance with New York homeschooling regulations—which require an annual notice and assessment, a detailed education plan, and quarterly reports—prompted them to believe an error had occurred. They thought perhaps the new personnel in the office had yet to locate their files.

The parents quickly wrote back, assuring the director that they had consistently filed homeschool paperwork for nine years. They provided a detailed history of their submissions back to 2007, even identifying specific individuals within the district office who had received the documents.

A month passed with no news of their paperwork, so in August the family wrote the district superintendent. They again outlined their reporting history and requested that an investigation be conducted to locate the missing records. The family offered to submit copies of any “missing” paperwork, as they had kept meticulous records for their children. They also included a copy of their Individualized Home Instruction Plan (IHIP) for the 2016–2017 school year.

Having heard nothing by November, the family assumed the records had been located. Unfortunately, that was not the case. After submitting their first quarterly report at the end of the month, the family received another letter from the director of student services claiming that the district “had no prior records that you are homeschooling.”

Conflicting messages

Another member family, who had begun reporting to the Mount Vernon City School District for their son in the 2016–2017 school year, experienced similar difficulties.

After they submitted their notice of intent and IHIP to the district, the family received a letter acknowledging their notice of intent but reminding them of another letter, supposedly sent in June, which stated that there was no record of the family homeschooling in the district.

This surprised the family, since they had just moved into the district that July. They followed up with the district to clear up what appeared to be a clerical mistake, and all seemed well.

In September, the family received a letter from the director of student services stating that their IHIP was in compliance. But after they submitted their first quarter report in November, they too received an ominous letter claiming that the district had no record of them homeschooling their son, despite the fact that previously the director had twice confirmed receipt of their paperwork.

Fixing the problem

After being contacted by both of these families, I wrote letters to the director of student services on their behalf.

The director’s initial reply to me simply repeated the claim that no record of homeschooling existed for either family. The director further stated that one family was failing to comply with state law.

I countered with copies of the director’s previous letters confirming receipt of the family’s documents, along with copies of the documents themselves.

The director wrote back shortly afterward and sheepishly admitted that there “was much renovation going on” at the board of education office and that homeschool records must “have been misplaced or lost in the shuffle.”

We have requested that the superintendent take swift action to address this egregious mistake. Cavalierly handling homeschool paperwork, and then blaming homeschool families when it goes missing, is inexcusable.

Submitting homeschool paperwork is a legally mandated responsibility that homeschool families take very seriously. Given the quick response from the director of student services, I am hopeful that the Mount Vernon City School District will not lose any more families’ paperwork.