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November 20, 2015

Homeschool Termination Threat Remains

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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On November 17, well over 150 homeschoolers filled the Santa Rosa County school board meeting room to overflowing, with some spilling into the hallway. They were there to protest the district’s action of terminating the homeschool programs of several families new to the county and threatening them with criminal prosecution.

These threats against homeschoolers occurred because the superintendent is insisting that parents demonstrate proof of residency before their home education programs can be recognized as legitimate.

During the public forum portion of the meeting, school board members heard from passionate homeschool parents (and at least one student) about this overreach. Homeschool parents who had lived in Santa Rosa County for many years spoke fondly of the past relationship with school officials and lamented what had happened to change this attitude. New homeschool families spoke of their anxiety when receiving the district’s threatening letter and demand to enroll their children in public or private school within three days.

Looking at the Law

Both Stephen Pitre, a local attorney associated with HSLDA, and HSLDA Staff Attorney Tj Schmidt spoke at the school board meeting. Schmidt pointed out that Florida law is very specific regarding what information must be provided to the local public school superintendent after parents have established a home education program. While a parent must provide the names, addresses, and birthdates of all children they are teaching at home to “the district school superintendent of the county in which the parent resides” there is no requirement that a parent prove residency. The notice comes after the home education program is established and the local school district has no authority to refuse to recognize the program. The only time proof of residency could legitimately be required is if the homeschool student was seeking to enroll in public school part-time (for sports, dual enrollment, etc.).

After the testimony from the homeschool community, Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick spoke. He read from a statement that had been written well before the meeting. While he mentioned his support of homeschooling and acknowledged that most homeschool families are doing a good job, he continued to insist that the district was within its authority to require that new homeschool families provide proof of residency in order to be seen as legitimate.

It appears that he believes homeschool students are enrolled or registered within the district when a parent submits a home education program. This is not accurate.

Genuine Concern

On a more positive note, the chairman and at least one other school board member promised to look into this situation. They appeared genuinely concerned about the threats in the letters from the district. It was obvious that they were unaware of what was being sent out. While the superintendent stated that the letters simply followed state law, this is not accurate.

The only authority under Florida law for a school district to “terminate” a home education program and require parents to enroll their child in a public or private school within three days is when a child has developed a pattern of nonattendance. And this only can occur when a child who has been enrolled in public school misses five days of classes out of 30 or 10 days out of 90.

A parent who then seeks to homeschool such a child is required to submit a portfolio review to a committee of school officials and home education parents. The portfolio must be submitted every 30 days until the committee is satisfied that the program is in compliance with Florida Statute 1002.41. If the parent in this situation fails to provide a portfolio or demonstrate compliance, then, and only then, can a school district terminate the program and order the child into a public or private school. None of the families in Santa Rosa were in this situation.

The meeting in Santa Rosa was a success in that it rallied a large group of homeschoolers against a misguided policy. However, it is also clear that this crisis is not resolved.

While we expect the threats of criminal prosecution to stop, thanks in part to ongoing media coverage of the district’s actions, HSLDA intends to continue monitoring the situation. We also plan to keep working closely with Brenda Dickinson of the Home Education Foundation. She was able to meet with Santa Rosa lobbyists and several legislators in order to bring more focus on the issue.

We will keep you informed when the district agrees to drops these demands. Thank you for you continued support of HSLDA! Without it we would not be able to do all that we do. If you aren’t already a member you can join here.

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In the News

WND: “Schools Won’t back down on Threat to Homeschoolers”

WND: “School to Homeschoolers: Sign up or Face Criminal Charges”

Family Research Council Interview

Pensacola News Journal: “Santa Rosa Homeschool System Costing Taxpayers?”