May 17, 2005

Virginia Beach School District Implies "Approval" is Required to Homeschool

On May 10, the Office of Student Services of the Virginia Beach City Public Schools sent a letter to homeschool families telling them that they must notify the superintendent of their intention to homeschool by August 1st of each year. Their attached notice of intent form repeated the mistake. The correct date, of course, is August 15th.

Attorney Scott Woodruff called the author of the letter, who immediately recognized the error. She said that she had received many phone calls from alert parents.

Her letter also suggested that parents must "apply" to homeschool and obtain "approval" from the school system. Under Virginia law, homeschool families do not need to either apply for or obtain approval. Families simply file a notice of intent, and they can begin home instruction immediately. The author of the letter said she would review the language before sending it out again next year with a view toward addressing our "approval" concerns.

This is not a trivial issue.

If "approval" were required, the government would have far more power over families. Parents might not be allowed to start homeschooling their children until they were approved.

Unfortunately, school officials sometimes make errors when administering the homeschool laws. If approval were required, these errors might force children to remain in public school far longer than they should, possibly with harmful consequences.

Because Virginia has a simple notice requirement, parents' rights are more robustly protected. While official errors are still troublesome, the consequences are much less severe. And the problems can be worked out in the context of a functioning homeschool program, rather than the context of parents who desperately want to begin homeschooling but cannot.

The requirement of notice, as opposed to approval, is an important safeguard to our liberties. When officials imply that approval is required, we must respond.