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December 3, 2001

Missouri's Interpretation of "School Term" Gives More Freedom

On November 20, 2001, Missouri's Supreme Court denied Home School Legal Defense Association's appeal in the case of In re J. B., bringing it to a final conclusion. See the July/August 2000 Court Report for a synopsis of the case.

The state had claimed that J.B. was educationally neglected because his parents did not offer 1,000 hours of instruction. We argued that he could not be educationally neglected because he was not yet of compulsory attendance age for that school year. J.B. was only 6 on July 1, the beginning of the "school year" as defined under law. He did not turn 7 until August.

The court held, however, that a home school term, unlike a "school year," does not automatically begin July 1 and end June 30. Instead, the court said a home school term begins on whatever date the family treats as the beginning of their term, but cannot last longer than 12 months. J.B.'s family treated September 1 as the beginning of their home school term. The court ruled, therefore, that they should have offered 1,000 hours of instruction within the 12-month term that began September 1, 1988, and ended August 31, 1999. The family did not, so the court upheld the ruling of the lower court-that J.B. was educationally neglected.

Although this is a disappointment for J.B.'s family, there is a silver lining for Missouri home school families.

Families now have flexibility to determine when their own home school term will begin. They can also choose when it will end, so long as it is not longer than 12 months. Families are no longer tied to the July1/June 30 calendar. With every new freedom, however, comes a new responsibility.

For most families, of course, informal education begins at birth. As the Court stated:

Child's mother testified that homeschool instruction had been continuous since Child's birth although she did not begin keeping records until September 1, 1998.

Since July 1 no longer automatically marks the beginning of the home school year, families must now choose their own clear date for the formal beginning of their term. Starting on whatever date is chosen, a family must then offer 1,000 hours of instruction, and maintain records required under law, consistent with their chosen term.

If a child is not yet 7 years of age on the date the family home school term begins, parents do not need to keep records or offer 1,000 hours of instruction until the date the home school term begins the following year. For example, if a family's home school term begins August 1, and their child turns 7 on August 15, the family would not need to offer 1,000 hours or keep records until August 1 of the following year.

This court ruling gives Missouri home schoolers tremendous flexibility to adjust their home school term to best suit the needs of their children.