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Tennessee

March 15, 2017

When a Sick Child Misses School, It’s Not Neglect

Trying to do what was best for her struggling son, Royal decided to homeschool. Once she began, however, she was met with a frightening and intrusive state investigation.

The family’s path to homeschooling had begun the previous year, when their son Michael was diagnosed with several serious and chronic illnesses. After he missed numerous days at his local public middle school, educators developed an individualized education plan for Michael.

Michael’s mother felt the plan just wasn’t providing what he needed. She asked the school to consider homebound instruction (where a school sends a teacher to tutor a sick child at home). But even after numerous requests and medical documentation supporting this approach, they were denied.

Frustrated by what she felt was a lack of concern for her son, Royal decided to withdraw Michael from public school and begin teaching him at home. She had successfully homeschooled an older son and knew that this would be a better option for Michael. After joining HSLDA, she continued the enrollment process with a church-related school.

The public school had recommended a local youth services agency to the family. However, when an official of the program heard that Michael had missed several days of school, she made a report of educational neglect to the Department of Child and Family Services—even though she knew that Royal had begun homeschooling Michael. Investigative social workers contacted Royal, seeking to conduct an intrusive investigation including home visits and interviews with Michael as well as other collateral contacts.

Where to Go for Help

Royal contacted HSLDA immediately.

“It never occurred to me that we would actually need [HSLDA’s] help like this,” Royal said. “We’re so glad we did [sign up] because not only did we get it, we got help immediately.”

I spoke with the social worker, who was initially not receptive to closing the investigation. I followed up with a letter, in which I explained Tennessee law and demonstrated that because the family was complying with the law, there could be no reason to investigate them for educational neglect.

As I pointed out, this family had done everything possible to meet Michael’s needs. Far from being neglectful, the parents’ decision to homeschool was exactly the right solution for his individual needs.

I asked the investigator to close the case without any further intrusion into the family. After reviewing my letter and supporting documentation, she closed the case.

Royal told me frequently throughout the process how disconcerting and scary it was to go through this kind of investigation. She told me that she was thrilled with the service and support she had received from HSLDA.

“I know we weren’t [HSLDA’s] only clients, but it felt like it at the time,” she said. And having an attorney “calling me personally about my rights in this matter and calm[ing] my fears was most impressive.”

Our assistance, Royal said, has given her the confidence and security to continue homeschooling. “The letter that was sent to the social worker made me feel validated as a parent and gives me the strength to continue on in this journey. We can now put all of our joy, effort, and attention into making the best homeschool for Michael,” she concluded.

Though homeschooling is growing, it is still viewed with suspicion by many ill-informed people. HSLDA talks to many families who have been contacted by Child Protective Services or similar agencies. We love to help families navigate all the challenges of homeschooling. By joining HSLDA, you and your family can enjoy confidence and security no matter what kind of obstacles you face in your homeschooling journey.