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Homeschools Targeted for Termination
|Staff Attorney Tj Schmidt answers questions and assists members with legal issues in Florida. He and his wife homeschool their children.
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HSLDA is considering taking legal action against Santa Rosa County School District in Florida after officials there said they would terminate some families’ homeschool programs and possibly prosecute them for not complying with the county’s demands for private information not required by law. Santa Rosa is the latest example in the Sunshine State of a district harassing homeschooling families with unlawful demands followed by threats of administrative and criminal actions.
This crisis in Santa Rosa has just developed over the past few months as a number of homeschooling families moved into the county. All properly notified school district officials in writing that they were establishing home education programs by submitting their children's names, dates of birth, and addresses.
Homeschooling parents who called the district office were told to use Santa Rosa's form and to personally bring the form into the office. Among other things, the form required each child's Social Security number, race, and grade level. None of this information is required by state law to establish a home education program.
Within a week or two of submitting the form, most of these homeschooling families then received a letter from Terri Moore, a secretary in what was formerly called the Alternative Academics and Continuous Improvement Department. In this letter Moore informed each family that the district had implemented a new policy “requiring home education students to show proof of residency.” Moore stated this requirement was the same “for any student entering our school district in any of our local schools.”
The letter also demanded that parents provide proof that they were no longer registered in whatever county they came from. This generally would be possible if the homeschooling family moved within Florida, where they would have submitted a letter of termination in their previous county school district. If they moved from out of state, however, it is likely they would have no such proof due to differences between state laws. Again, this information is not required under Florida law.
HSLDA Staff Attorney Tj Schmidt wrote a letter in late August to Moore and Santa Rosa Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick pointing out that Florida law does not require proof of residency or any of the additional information that the district requested. Schmidt informed them that homeschooling families do not need to register in the district.
When over a month passed with nothing more from Santa Rosa, we at HSLDA assumed that everything had been resolved. How wrong we were.
In mid-October homeschooling families began to receive termination letters from Moore, who is now the secretary to Laura Austin, principal of the Santa Rosa Blended Academy/Home Education Department. The letter stated that officials were “terminating your request to file your intent to home school in Santa Rosa County School District.”
The letter went on to say that each family had:
3 days to register your student in public or private school. Failure of a parent or guardian to enroll a student in an attendance option after termination of a home education program shall constitute non-compliance with the compulsory attendance requirement and may result in criminal prosecution of the parent under Section 1003.27(2), F.S.
Schmidt immediately reached out to Assistant Superintendent Bill Emerson and Principal Austin. He was only able to get Austin on the phone, who, unfortunately, did not appear to be familiar enough with the situation or Florida law to be willing to talk very long about the matter.
While Ms. Moore acknowledged receiving HSLDA’s earlier letter on this matter, there was no explanation on why officials there did not respond to us instead of “terminating” these families’ homeschool programs. Schmidt was able to get the name and contact information for Paul Green, the district's attorney, and left him a message.
The next day Green told Schmidt that Santa Rosa was simply emulating other school districts. Since these districts were doing it, said Green, Santa Rosa had the legal authority to do it. He refused to accept that the Florida Department of Education denies local school districts authority to add to the home education law or listen to the fact that HSLDA has opposed all other districts’ attempts at similar requirements. Some of these other situations have been resolved, and some are still being worked out.
Green refused to discuss the matter further and encouraged HSLDA to take this to court.
Pondering Legal Action
After Schmidt consulted with HSLDA’s litigation department, it was decided Santa Rosa must immediately cease all threats of criminal prosecution or we would have to ask a judge to make them stop. We immediately asked Stephen Pitre, a local homeschool dad and our associated attorney in Santa Rosa, to assist us. Working together we were able to persuade Santa Rosa to put any action against these families on hold.
We sent a request to Superintendent Wyrosdick requesting to be placed on the school board agenda for November 17. We want to formally request that the Santa Rosa School Board:
- Instruct district employees not to adopt or implement any new policy or practice regarding home education without a change to the written rules of the board.
- Instruct district employees to foster a more cooperative relationship with parents who seek to home educate their children in compliance with state law.
- Form a committee that includes local home education parents in Santa Rosa County to review any proposed change in policy involving parents who choose to home educate their children.
HSLDA has just learned that Superintendent Wyrosdick denied our request to be placed on the agenda. However, the school board meeting is open to the public and anyone who attends is allowed three minutes to present his or her concerns to the board.
Both Schmidt and Pitre plan to attend along with several of the families who received termination letters. We are also asking all homeschooling families in Santa Rosa to come to the meeting. We expect a large turnout. Lord willing, the result will be similar to the outcome in Alachua County earlier this year. Alachua has dropped their demands and formed a committee of homeschooling parents to move county policy to be friendlier to homeschooling families.
Stay tuned . . .
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