Lax Officials Skip Steps, Threaten Homeschool Mom
by Tj Schmidt • October 29, 2019
After moving with her son from Virginia, Shawntae submitted her notice of intent to Polk County Public Schools, establishing her home education program in Florida. A month later, she received a letter from school officials demanding that she attend a portfolio review committee meeting in two weeks or face the termination of her home education program.
Shawntae was sure there was a mistake and contacted Polk County school officials to discuss the letter. After reminding school officials that she had just moved to Florida, Shawntae was told that Polk County intended on reviewing all new homeschools.
When Shawntae informed the school official that she couldn’t make that review meeting due to a prior commitment, she was told just to send her 17-year-old son to the meeting. Realizing that she needed help to further communicate with the district, Shawntae contacted Home School Legal Defense Association.
After talking with Shawntae and reviewing all her documents, I quickly realized that Polk County was attempting to apply a legal procedure in a completely inappropriate manner.
The portfolio review meeting that Polk County wanted Shawntae to attend is designed for students who have demonstrated a pattern of nonattendance in the public school and then are withdrawn to be homeschooled.
With only three days before the scheduled meeting, I immediately contacted the director of the Polk Virtual School and Home Education Program. I hoped to clear up the misunderstanding and have the district drop its demand that Shawntae attend the portfolio review meeting.
Once I was able to talk with the director and his staff, they stated that they had placed Shawntae’s home education program on the portfolio-review committee schedule because they can review a home education portfolio with 15 days’ written notice. According to Polk County officials, once they request the portfolio, they are then required to pass the family’s portfolio along to the portfolio-review committee. School officials stated that this was told to them by the Florida Department of Education, verbally of course. They just decided to skip the request for the portfolio and go right to the review committee.
Confused about the Law
I pointed out that the two portfolio processes—requesting the portfolio and sending families to a review committee—are completely different things and are under entirely different sections of Florida law. While state law does allow a school district superintendent, or his agent, to request a homeschool child’s portfolio with 15 days’ written notice, nothing in Florida law requires it. Traditionally, these requests have only been made when there is some evidence that a child is not being educated.
The portfolio-review committee is in a different section of Florida statutes from the homeschool law and only applies when a child, who was enrolled in public school, demonstrates a “pattern of nonattendance.” If a parent then decides to withdraw and homeschool a child who has developed a pattern of nonattendance, the 30-day portfolio review process must be followed.
I pointed out to Polk County officials that Shawntae’s son did not have a pattern of nonattendance (having never been enrolled in Florida public school but having been previously homeschooled in Virginia for three years). I also noted that officials had failed to even follow Florida law in calling the 30-day portfolio review. They stated state law requires that school officials provide a list of home educators who have been homeschooling for at least three years and have expressed a willingness to serve on the portfolio review committee to parents subject to a review.
But the parent gets to select at least two of these homeschool parents to be on the committee that reviews their child’s portfolio. Polk County had not even offered the name of one homeschool family to participate in their demand to review Shawntae’s portfolio.
Informed of these facts, Polk County officials stated that they would simply request Shawntae’s portfolio be submitted with 15 days’ notice. When I asked the reason for this request, they reiterated what they had told Shawntae earlier: Polk County was going to be requesting to review all new homeschooling families’ portfolios.
I pointed out that Shawntae’s home education program in Florida was barely a month old. Additionally, a portfolio request was ridiculous since they had already confirmed that the district had absolutely no evidence that Shawntae was not educating her son in compliance with Florida law. As I got off the phone, I promised that HSLDA would defend any member whose right to educate their child at home was being infringed. I made it clear that I saw this attack on Shawntae as harassment.
After discussing this matter with several other HSLDA attorneys, I wrote a letter confirming our commitment to defend Shawntae’s right to educate her son, free from harassment from local school officials.
I also explained in detail why Polk County has no authority to demand that Shawntae attend a 30-day portfolio-review committee meeting and why county officials had failed to follow Florida law in several areas. Adding our locally affiliated attorney’s name to our list of senders, I mailed this letter to Polk County officials.
We fully expect Polk County to drop their demands of Shawntae. We will continue to monitor this situation to prevent future harassment of other homeschool families.