Education Officials Listen, Make Online Form Safer
by Tj Schmidt • August 6, 2019
With not much time to spare, state education officials recently corrected a new online homeschool notification form—we now feel that we can declare the form safe and appropriate to use.
Since mid-June I worked with leaders from Christian Association of Parent Educators (CAPE-NM) to advise officials at the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) what was wrong with their online notification database and how to make it comply with homeschool law. We also pointed out concerns that the database, as originally released, did not adequately safeguard privacy.
I am happy to report that all these concerns have been dealt with—and that changes were completed before the August 1 deadline for families to submit their homeschool notices.
In fact, Dave Jones of CAPE-NM said the state homeschool organization now recommends that homeschool families use the online form.
I’m sure the news came as a relief to many. Dave told me he’d heard from a number of parents who held off filing their homeschool notices until they learned the online form was safe.
“A lot of families wanted to know what our recommendations were, and were willing to wait,” he said.
This outcome reflects positively on everyone involved. It shows that good things can happen when advocacy groups join with families to stand up for their rights under the law. It also shows that officials can be receptive to change.
Dave reminded me that this represents a turnaround from a year ago, when PED officials seemed reluctant to address homeschoolers’ concerns about a new requirement to sign “statements of understanding.” (It was eventually rescinded.)
“Last year, it didn’t seem like we had any communication,” Dave recalled. This year, PED officials “were more than willing to hear our concerns and meet our requests. We had a tremendous relationship.”
There were serious reasons for concern.
To begin with, PED officials tried to make the use of the online notification form a requirement.
It’s true that New Mexico law mandates that the PED provide a form that helps families notify officials that they intend to homeschool. But nothing in the law says families must use the PED’s online form.
In fact, using the online form may pose a hardship for some families because they do not have easy access to the internet. Others may not feel comfortable posting information about their children online because of safety concerns.
Privacy became an even bigger issue when it was hinted that the PED was interested in assigning each homeschool student a unique identification number within the Student Teacher Accountability Reporting System, which was designed for public schools. Fortunately, the PED backed off this part of the project.
The PED also revised the homeschool notification database to make it secure, and edited a popup that incorrectly declared that state law requires the parent/guardian to have a high school diploma or the equivalent. Actually, state law says that the person providing instruction must have a high school diploma or the equivalent.
Now that it is corrected, the online form does offer families options for complying with homeschool law.
They can create an account on the PED website and submit their homeschool notice via the internet. Or they can print a paper copy of the notice form, fill it out by hand and submit it through the mail.
Families who do submit their notice by mail should keep a copy, or consider sending it certified with a return receipt, as it appears that the PED will not be providing a written confirmation.
Again, we appreciate the willingness of the PED to make changes in a timely manner. It probably helped that, not too long ago, officials witnessed the lengths to which homeschoolers will go to protect their freedoms.
About this time in 2018, CAPE-NM and I gathered with homeschoolers from across the state to rally outside PED offices in Santa Fe to protest the requirement that parents sign “statements of understanding” in order to be officially acknowledged as homeschoolers.
CAPE-NM also urged all homeschoolers to submit their notices by certified mail, which increased the paperwork burden the new online portal is supposed to alleviate.
Since then state officials have gradually backed away from this and any other demands of forced speech.