June 11, 2010

Lemons in Orange

Orange County Public Schools recently served up some real lemons to the Wilsons (name changed to protect their privacy) and other area homeschool families by failing to follow the testing provisions of the homeschool law.

After the Wilsons sent in their year-end evaluation, the Director of Elementary Instruction and the Director of Secondary Instruction jointly sent a letter saying that three of their children were now on probation because they scored below average on one or two subtests. The letter said the family must submit a remediation plan, which the school would then evaluate for acceptability. The letter pointed to the family’s “educational deficiencies” and warned that homeschooling must cease unless all required conditions were met.

But the only “educational deficiency” worth debating was in the school staff themselves. Virginia law is clear: children are not required to score average or above. A test score at or above the 23rd percentile is acceptable. And it is only the composite score—not individual subtest scores—that are considered.

The Wilsons contacted HSLDA for help. HSLDA Senior Counsel Scott Woodruff engaged in a dialog with an administrator to solve the problem. She seemed embarrassed and quickly acknowledged the error. Woodruff asked her to apologize to the family for frightening them with the probation threat.

The administrator responded by sending the family a letter telling them that their “notice of intent…is in compliance with state code and School Board policy regulating home instruction.” But there was never any problem with the family’s notice of intent! The family did not want to hear that a non-existent problem had been solved. They wanted to school system to retract the probation threat, and maybe even apologize.

Woodruff wrote a follow up letter. The school system finally sent a letter retracting the probation. But the family never received an apology.