Local Homeschool Harassment

Most homeschoolers in Pennsylvania (ourselves included) manage to teach our kids at home with little to no trouble from public school officials. The biggest problem we have had is that the school district routinely requests the results of our children’s physical exams, rather than just proof that they have had the required exams. We just gently submit the required information, and do not give them the information that they are not entitled to.

But occasionally, the public school officials blatantly violate the law. Here is an example from nearby in Western PA:

Superintendent Terminates Home Education Program Without Authority

On November 5, 2007, the superintendent of General McLane School District notified a Home School Legal Defense Association member family that he had terminated their home education program because they had failed to submit quarterly reports to his office. According to the superintendent’s letter to the family, he had approved their program at the beginning of the school year on the condition that the quarterly reports be submitted “to insure sufficient work had been completed and that you are on track in your instruction.” Knowing that state law did not require the quarterly reports, the mother serving as the supervisor of the home education program did not submit the documentation to the superintendent. The superintendent’s letter stated that the mother was required to enroll her son in the public elementary school within three days. It also threatened the mother with truancy charges should she not enroll her son in public school by the deadline established by the superintendent.

HSLDA Senior Counsel Dewitt Black immediately faxed a letter to the superintendent informing him that state law did not permit local school districts to require submission of quarterly reports in a home education program. He explained that the family in question was in full compliance with Pennsylvania’s homeschool law and did not intend to submit the quarterly reports, stop homeschooling their son, or enroll him in public school.

To date, the superintendent has made no further attempts to enforce submission of the unauthorized quarterly reports and has brought no truancy charges against the family.

The PA homeschool law is not difficult to read. At the beginning of the year you submit a notarized affidavit saying that you will be homeschooling, affirming that you are have not been convicted of certain crimes, and that you have a minimal education level. You include the subjects that you will be teaching. During the year you keep a portfolio and a log of your daily activites, and at the end of the year you get it evaluated by a certified teacher, and then you submit the portfolio and the log, with the evaluation, to the school district. Only annual reports are required, not quarterly reports, so the superintendent was not acting legally.

Homeschooling has come a long way for the days when it was illegal in some states, and homeschoolers were routinely harassed as truants. So we should be thankful that these days are mostly in the past. Now when a public school offiicial misbehaves he can be silenced with a letter from a lawyer.

However, it seems that when an official is ignorant of the law and messes with someone’s life like this, that they should be held accountable. Perhaps he should be sentenced to a day or two of “diversity training” so that he learns more about the rights of homeschoolers.

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7 thoughts on “Local Homeschool Harassment

  1. I do not understand the issue at hand. What is wrong with requiring the provision of proof that a homeschool teacher is doing their job? A system of checks and balances never hurts anyone.

    If you ask me, quarterly reports aren’t proactive enough. Reporting should be weekly at a minimum. With the internet available, it could easily be done daily.

    If we hold public school teachers to such high standards, why on earth should we not be concerned with education everywhere else?

    Seems to me that the principal was just trying to make sure that everyone is doing a good job.

  2. Regardless of what he may have been trying to do, he lacked legal authority to require any such thing. Frankly, I’m rather appalled that someone of his education and level of responsibility is not better informed on his legal authority, and lack thereof.

    The home education law, PA Act 169, clearly outlines what the homeschool parent/supervisor is required to furnish, and quarterly reports are not among those things.

    http://www.pahomeschoolers.com/act169.html

    If you think that more reporting ought to be required, please contact your state legislator and have him propose changes to the law in order to make it so. Meanwhile, you might consider that public school teachers don’t actually have the level of reporting you think necessary for homeschoolers. What principal has time to look over the shoulder of every teacher and examine the progress of each and every student on a quarterly basis, let alone weekly?

  3. BTW, the superintendent’s most egregious error is in threatening the parent with action if the child is not enrolled in a public school. There is no legal requirement that any child anywhere be enrolled in a public school. He might be able to make a case that appropriate education is not occurring, and thus terminate the home education program, as per the law linked above. However, the parent is still free to enroll the child in any other school setting; the insistence that the child be enrolled in public school is without any legal basis whatsoever.

  4. Hi TJ,

    First of all,welcome to my blog.

    As SheWhoPicksUpToys said, the first issue is that the superintendent was not following the written law. If superintendents can do whatever they want, rather than follow the law, then pretty soon we have chaos. We’ll be treated differently in every school district, and our treatment can change from year to year based on who is in charge. I hope you agree that is not good.

    I also think you don’t understand what home schooling is. The weekly reporting that you proposed might be fitting for a cybercharter school, where the parent is effectively a “teacher’s aide” reporting to a remote teacher. Some people follow a system like this and it works for them.

    However, the point of home schooling is that our home is a school, not an extension of the public school. That means we select the curriculum, schedule the lessons, teach the classes, and grade the results. Yes, we do report what we did, and the results, to show that we are not just goofing off, and that we are teaching the required subjects, but we are not agents of the public school. That is why the law does not force us to report to the superintendent as if he were our boss.

    This might be a helpful analogy: Home education is to public education as home cooking is to McDonald’s. The skills needed to teach your own children at home are very different from the skills needed to teach 25 kids in a classroom setting.

  5. Good analogy, BTG.

    And with the many means of communication, one would think the superintendent would be better informed of the law. In fact, I suspect he/she may have been, but was counting on the (hopeful) ignorance of the parents.

    Additionally, I don’t think public school teachers are being held to high standards. I have interviewed countless prospective employees and found most of them lacking basic skills necessary to work.

    People complain there aren’t enough jobs. But in many cases, there aren’t enough skilled workers (and the skills I’m looking for are basic math and English).

  6. Hi,

    I understand everyone’s concern and I too do not want the government involved in every aspect of my life. I am a textbook libertarian with an exception to their position on drugs.

    However, why do people demand MORE legislation? As is plainly seen, legislation does not work. If you ask me, it should not be required by law to allow the school system to check up on parents. Parents should always act in the best interest of their children and seeking a “board of directors” never ever hurts. If that requires transparency to another authority that is responsible for guaranteeing a right to education, then the parent should have no problem with showing someone else proof that what they say they are doing is valid.

    Here’s my position on home schooling: I completely and undoubtedly support it. It is and always should be a choice for everyone. Raising and educating my children is my responsibility; my choice is the channel that I choose to a means of education.

    But…..there are people out there that cannot teach their children as is needed by society (for the children to operate and be demanded by employers). Without complete transparency, how can we make sure these people are not inadvertently doing their children a lifelong disservice? Why would anyone ever want to make it more difficult to ensure that a child’s right to a fair and equal education is being exercised?

    If we didn’t have a welfare system, I would totally support anyone’s decision for anything because the benefits and consequences of those decisions are all their own. Since that is not the case and our tax system picks up where some people do not succeed, we have to make sure we do everything we can to make sure they are not part of the system later in life.

    That is my only concern. Though, there are a million reasons for either side of the fence of education systems. I never debate them because it is pure opinion supported (aka subjective) facts on either side. My wife and I considered it (she is a stay at home Mom) but since we believe we are educated enough, whatever we feel the public system lacks we can and will supplement appropriately.

    Keep up the good blog!

  7. 1tbag,

    I have a lot of sympathy for your position. I am conflicted about whether there should be some level of outside control given that people will neglect given an appropriate education, and therefore their kids become others’ problems.

    However, that’s not what’s at issue here. The laws provide a way for inadequate homeschooling programs to be terminated, thus requiring the student to be enrolled in some other credible educational setting, though not necessarily the public schools. The problem here isn’t what the law should or should not provide for, or that homeschooling parents are free to neglect a decent education, it’s the local school officials acting as though they are the law unto themselves. It is analogous to a policeman observing that people in red cars tend to speed, and therefore willy-nilly pulling over and arresting every third person in a red car. Even if it’s arguable that red cars should be outlawed to prevent speeding (a silly analogy, I know), the policeman still has no authority to do that. In this situation, the school superintendent fills the role of a policeman over the homeschooling, NOT the legislator, judge, or Supreme Dictatorial Poobah of Educational Matters. That’s the problem in this particular situation.

    As for my suggestion that TJ contact his legislator to increase the regulation, that’s not actually what I want him to do, but that’s the way to make happen what he wants to have happen. School superintendents usurping authority that is not theirs, is not the way to do it. I was being a bit facetious there, while making the distinction between “school superintendents should just be able to do whatever they think necessary to enforce education” and “the law provides for what school superintendents can do — if you don’t like it, change the law.”

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