Approval States Cause Conflict
There are approximately 17 states which require homeschoolers to be approved by the state board of education, the local school board, or the local superintendent. All of these states have developed different policies toward homeschooling—some less favorable than others—and all of these state or local policies change from year to year. The basic premise from which these states operate is that the government is the guardian of all children and, therefore, they must approve every program that is not sponsored by the public school system in order to guarantee that an adequate education is given. Of course this premise collides with the religious beliefs of most homeschoolers who hold that they as parents have been given, by God, the sole responsibility to train and educate their children according to the principles delineated in the Bible.
The HSLDA staff instructs families who do not recognize the states’ right to approve homeschools to specifically state their religious beliefs in writing to the school districts. Any information that a homeschooler gives to a school district should be given voluntarily and not for the state’s approval. Below are several instances where HSLDA homeschool families were confronted by the authorities in “approval’ states.
In Norwell, Massachusetts, the Sproul family was informed that their home instruction program had to be approved by the superintendent or the school committee as required by statute. The family contacted HSLDA, and was instructed to submit in writing their religious beliefs and the fact that they were not seeking state approval. Also, the Sprouls were advised to explain that they were willing to volunteer information to the school committee so that the state would know an education was indeed taking place.
Meanwhile, the HSLDA staff sent a letter on the Sprouls’ behalf explaining their sincerely held religious beliefs, their excellent academic program, and describing the legal limits of the state. The superintendent ended up recommending that the school committee pass the family because they could not stop them legally. As a result, eleven school committee members voted for the Sprouls and only one voted against.
In Rhode Island, the Kindstedt family was contacted by their local superintendent and informed that their “course of at home instruction” must be approved by the local school committee. The family then called HSLDA and was counseled to volunteer information but not seek “approval.” The family subsequently appeared before the local school committee. The family then called HSLDA and was counseled to volunteer information but not seek “approval.” The family subsequently appeared before the local school committee, explained their religious beliefs, documented their qualifications (the father was certified to teach in four states), and presented their curriculum. The school committee found everything in order but they insisted that the Kindstedts submit to periodic “home visits” by the school district.
After praying and later counseling with Chris Klicka, HSLDA’s executive director, the family decided they could not compromise their religious convictions and submit to the “home visits.” Klicka then wrote a letter to the superintendent delineating the Kindstedts’ right to freely exercise their religion, free from excessive state regulation. He also stated that the family was entitled to a religious exemption from the home visit requirement for several reasons. First of all, it violated their sincere religious beliefs and infringed on their fundamental right to direct the upbringing and education of their children. Secondly, Klicka contended that the Rhode Island compulsory attendance statute did not even delegate the authority to regulate homeschools to the school committee. Lastly, Klicka emphasized that no case precedent supported the requirement of home visits.
Unfortunately, the school district refused to bend their policy and now they have threatened legal action unless the Kindstedts appeal to the commissioner. As a result, HSLDA has appealed the case to the state commissioner of education who has decided in favor of homeschoolers in four preceding appeals. HSLDA believes the school district in this situation has clearly overstepped its authority. The hearing is scheduled for June 3.
In Pennsylvania, the state board’s interpretation of the compulsory attendance statute requires that parents teaching their children must be “qualified” and their instruction must be “satisfactory to the proper district superintendent of schools.” As a result, Pennsylvania has been afflicted, as in Ohio, with each school district arbitrarily setting their own standards by which homeschoolers must abide. Some superintendents require parents to be state-certified, while others are satisfied with a high school diploma. The term “qualified” is extremely vague, leaving much room for arbitrary decisions by the superintendents. In addition, each family’s curriculum is subject to the state superintendents’ “approval.” For these reasons, at least 18 homeschool families are in various stages of litigation. By God’s grace, no HSLDA families have had to go to court.
Recently, the Steudler family was contacted in Pennsylvania. After receiving counsel from the HSLDA legal staff, the Steudlers filled out their superintendent’s form but then attached their own amendments and interpretation of the agreement. The superintendent agreed with most of their changes but he wanted their child to be tested in the public school. The Steudlers’ convictions, however, would not allow them to have their children tested by the school district. When the school district refused to bend, HSLDA’s executive director called the superintendent and successfully convinced him that it was in the child’s best interests that he be tested at home. HSLDA also brought to the attention of the superintendent a recent study done by the American Psychological Testing Association which concluded that a child performs best on a standardized test when the child is tested in familiar surroundings. As a result, a potential legal battle was thwarted due to patient negotiation.
In Maine, another “approval” state, the compulsory attendance law requires that homeschoolers must be approved by the local school committee and the commissioner of education. Commissioner Boose recently sent a letter to all superintendents about “unapproved home education programs,” stating, “superintendents with children
using Christian Liberty Academy and other programs without prior approval should be aware that the children are truant under Maine law. The law requires truancy prosecutions by superintendents against the parents or other guardians in legal control of the children.” One HSLDA family whose religious convictions will not allow them to request approval, has recently been battling their local school committee.
In conclusion, “approval” states are open to discretionary abuse by each school district who is free to impose any requirement they choose. The fundamental, constitutional right of parents to teach their children is ignored in order to preserve state control. In addition, the very concept that the public school districts are allowed to approve or disapprove private, homeschools is a clear conflict of interest condemned by the U.S. Supreme Court in Tumey v. Ohio, 273 U.S. 510 (1927). The due process requirement of a neutral decision maker is violated by laws which give local school officials the power to decide whether or not a family may homeschool because the school officials have a financial interest in getting the children back in public school. (It is estimated that the average school district receives 2,000 tax dollars for each child enrolled.)