Between homeschoolers and the school system: trust works both ways

Trust issues between homeschoolers and school system

School district officials often
scratch their heads as to why
some parents choose
homeschooling over their
local public schools.

Research indicates that the most common reasons involve concerns about the environment of the local schools.

The next two reasons for homeschooling most frequently cited as applicable were to provide religious or moral instruction (72 percent) and dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools (68 percent).

However, there is another reason that lies beneath parents pulling away from public schools, and that is a lack of trust. Teachers and school administrations too often do not (or cannot) take into consideration the desires of parents and the needs of children because they are focused on 1) their own accountability to federal regulations and 2) the standards they must meet to qualify for funding.

Teachers are forced pile on homework without regard for family time, social interaction, and much needed rest. Parental concerns are sometimes met with impatience and disdain. There is already an adversarial relationship between students and teachers, and now parents feel that they must fight against their school instead of being able to partner with it.

This mistrust is also felt deeply by homeschoolers, who have obviously opted out of the system, but in some states must still comply with homeschool regulations. When things go wrong, as can happen in any system, the manner in which the situation is handled can make or break any goodwill that a homeschooling parent may have toward the school district.

Case in point:

The Constants submitted their notice of intent last August when they began homeschooling their young son. As required by Georgia law, they filed their monthly attendance records with the school district, using an online service for convenience.

I love computers and doing business online, but technology is not foolproof. The school district's firewall prevented them from receiving these records via their online system.

Did they contact the family by phone, email, or snail mail, and request the information? Did they discover the error and acknowledge it?

... the school district had filed an application for Linda Constant’s arrest and scheduled a court hearing to consider issuing the warrant.

Overreacting much? But then the school district was contacted by HSLDA and the problem discovered. Did the district then drop the charges?

Despite explaining the error to the school district—an error caused by the school district’s own computer system—the district refused to stop the legal proceedings.

If school officials are truly interested in serving their communities and wish home educators in their districts to cooperate with their procedures, they need to have a more reasonable and cooperative attitude. "Do as I say and not as I do" doesn't work for anyone, including school administrators.

Some states do not have homeschool regulations, but in Ohio there are sections of the Ohio Administrative Code (Chapter 3301-34 Excuses from Compulsory Attendance for Home Education) that govern how homeschoolers comply with compulsory education laws.

These laws aren't just for homeschoolers. These laws also apply to those who work for the school district--the superintendent's office, school principals, teachers, etc . . . It is truly disturbing when these government employees assume they have the authority to 'interpret' or add to the law in ways that clearly violate it. 

For instance, Ohio law states that homeschoolers are to provide the following information in their homeschool notification:

  • School year for which notification is made;
  • Name of parent, address, and telephone number (telephone number optional);
  • Name, address, and telephone number (telephone number optional) of person(s) who will be teaching the child the subjects set forth in paragraph (A)(5) of this rule, if other than the parent;
  • Full name and birthdate of child to be educated at home;
Trust Issues between schools and homeschoolers | Photo Credit: freedigitalphotos.net 

Trust Issues between schools and homeschoolers | Photo Credit: freedigitalphotos.net 

The school district should not request grade level information or birth certificates. They do not have the authority to rewrite or add to the ORC or OAC.

And yet every year I hear from homeschoolers who have been told by their district that they must supply birth certificates or grade level information, or their homeschool notification will be 'denied'.

Providing one's phone number is optional, and I do not recommend including it. All communication with the school district should be in writing to provide documentation for future reference. 

Also required in the OAC:

  • Assurance that the child will be provided a minimum of nine hundred hours of home education each school year.
  • Assurance that the home teacher has one of the following qualifications:

(a) A high school diploma; or

(b) The certificate of high school equivalence; or

(c) Standardized test scores that demonstrate high school equivalence; or

(d) Other equivalent credential found appropriate by the superintendent; or

(e) Lacking the above, the home teacher must work under the direction of a person holding a baccalaureate degree from a recognized college until the child's or children's test results demonstrate reasonable proficiency or until the home teacher obtains a high school diploma or the certificate of high school equivalence.

The law goes on to define the term "provide assurance" by stating "The parent(s) shall affirm the information supplied with his or her signature prior to providing it to the superintendent."

This means that the parent's signature on the form or letter is all the 'proof' that is required. The superintendent or school cannot request copies of high school diplomas or college degrees without reasonable cause. And 'reasonable cause' is not "Because I said so" or "It's Tuesday."

In addition to assurances that: 

  • Language, reading, spelling, and writing:
  • Geography, history of the United States and Ohio; and national, state, and local government;
  • Mathematics;
  • Science;
  • Health;
  • Physical education;
  • Fine arts, including music; and
  • First aid, safety, and fire prevention

will be taught, homeschoolers must also provide a:

  • Brief outline of the intended curriculum for the current year. Such outline is for informational purposes only.
  • List of textbooks, correspondence courses, commercial curricula, or other basic teaching materials that the parent intends to use for home education. Such list is for informational purposes only.

Because this list is supposed to be "for informational purposes only", it is up to the parent to decide what they want to include.

What does "brief" mean to you? To me it means "short", "compressed", and "succinct". For math, the term "Algebra 1" is detailed enough, since any Algebra 1 course is going to cover the same concepts. 

The subject of History might require a bit of description, such as "Western Culture from 1500-Present" or "History of North America from 1700-1850". 

However, every year homeschoolers all over Ohio are told that they haven't included enough information, and receive letters stating that their 'request' to homeschool has been 'denied' because they didn't include a detailed Scope and Sequence, or photocopy of the Table of Contents--which, by the way, violates the copyright of the textbook!

Did you see the words "detailed Scope and Sequence" in the OAC? Or "copies of lesson plans?" I didn't either.

The wording school districts use when communicating with homeschoolers further compounds the problem. In Ohio, the letter or form homeschoolers send in is called a "Notice of Intent to Homeschool" or "Homeschool Notification." You will notice that it isn't called a 'Request for Permission to Homeschool'. Yet many of the letters homeschoolers receive contain wording such as "Your request to homeschool has been approved" or "denied".

It should read "Here is your excuse letter. Have a nice day."

The purpose of the notification is to inform the school district that the parent plans to comply with compulsory education laws and provide for their child's education. The superintendent's office has 14 days to review the notification for compliance, then provide an excuse letter from compulsory attendance.

Even if the superintendent finds the notification is not in compliance, they still have procedures to follow that are clearly outlined in the OAC.

  • If the superintendent, upon review of the information, determines that it is not in compliance with all of the requirements set forth in paragraph (A) of this rule, the superintendent shall state in writing the specific respects in which the information is incomplete. The superintendent shall provide the parent an option within fourteen calendar days, to:

(a) Supply additional information in writing, or

(b) Arrange a conference at which the requested information can be supplied.

And again, every year homeschoolers all over Ohio receive letters stating they are not in compliance long after the 14 day window has closed, and for reasons not allowed by law.

Furthermore, after the superintendent follows proper procedures to gather the required information, he/she must have "substantial evidence that the minimum educational requirements of paragraph (A) of this rule will not be met" before they can deny a homeschool notification. 

Don't even get me started on the confusion surrounding testing and narrative assessments. Read the law, people.

What these incidents prove is the lack of understanding of the law, as well as the suspicion and hostility some school districts feel toward the homeschooling community. As long as school officials remain ignorant of law or disregard it, parents will not be trusting their children to them. 

Schools expect to be trusted to oversee the education of the children who live in their district, but trust must be earned. It isn't the parents job to prove they can be trusted with their own children, and the handling of homeschool notifications should reflect that fact.

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