September 6, 2011

Don’t Trust the DPI Website!

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) website contains so many errors that prudent families will look elsewhere for guidance. Quotes below are from “General Information FAQs.”

The website says, “your child(ren) will not be considered to be enrolled in a home-based educational program until you enter all the data requested” in your statement of enrollment (SOE). If the DPI actually had the power to enroll your child, this would make sense.

Thankfully, however, it is you—not the DPI—who has the power to enroll your child. And there is no formality or procedure for enrolling your child in your own homeschool program. It happens simply by your act of beginning to homeschool your child. The SOE is an after-the-fact report merely reflecting what you have already done.

The DPI’s erroneous belief that they control enrollment leads it to at least three other significant errors on the website.

Their website states “if you withdraw your child from ... school prior to completing [the SOE] he/she may be considered truant.” This is incorrect.

Wisconsin law 118.15(4) says “instruction in a home-based private educational program that meets all of the criteria under s. 118.165(1) may be substituted for attendance at a public or private school.” The program criteria are: (1) private instruction is its purpose; (2) it’s privately controlled; (3) it provides 875 hours of instruction annually; (4) it provides sequential, progressive instruction in reading, language arts, math, social studies, science and health; and (5) it’s not operated to circumvent compulsory attendance. Note that the filing of the SOE is not one of the listed criteria!

Yes, the SOE is mandatory. But the penalty for failure to file is not that your children are truant. Otherwise students in public and private schools (which also must file an SOE) would be truant if the school secretary forgot to file their SOE!

The DPI’s erroneous belief that they control enrollment also leads them to believe that you must “update” your SOE. Their website states: “You also need to update your [SOE] if you move to a different ... school district, or if you want to change the number of children enrolled in the home-based program.”

And their website says you must file if you start homeschooling later: “If you withdraw your children from ... school after October 15, your [SOE] should be submitted ... on or before the date your child ceases to attend school.”

Both of these statements are incorrect. Under Wisconsin law 115.30(3), the SOE must reflect a frozen moment in time—just the children enrolled on one particular date set by law: “the 3rd Friday of September.”

If you transfer your child from public or private school into a homeschool program, or move into Wisconsin after the third Friday in September, you do not need to file an SOE for that year at all. If the number of children in your homeschool program changes after that date, you do not need to update your SOE. The law mandates that the SOE be only a snapshot—not a fluid picture.

The DPI’s erroneous belief that they control enrollment finally leads them to believe that their mere "rejection" your SOE puts you out of compliance with the law. This is incorrect.

If your SOE is completed and filed correctly, and the DPI rejects it for no legitimate reason, it has no impact on your legal status. The DPI undermined its own credibility last year by “rejecting” many proper SOEs. (Of course, if the DPI correctly tells you that something in your SOE is amiss, you should take appropriate action.)

HSLDA Senior Counsel Scott Woodruff has written to representatives of the DPI asking them to correct the errors in their website.