HSLDA Peels Away Red Tape So Family Can Keep Homeschooling
by Dave Dentel • October 16, 2018
New York’s onerous and complex homeschool law provides ample opportunity for misunderstanding and abuse—a point proven yet again when a family was placed on probation even though their children were learning and progressing.
The family contacted Home School Legal Defense Association after what began as a disagreement regarding how to assess their two younger students escalated into a serious legal dilemma.
New York law requires homeschool parents to assess their students at the end of every school year and then submit the results to the local public school superintendent. For school years in which standardized tests are not mandated, parents may have someone conduct an alternate form of assessment based upon an interview of the child and review of their portfolio. This assessment is submitted as a written narrative.
Here’s where it gets tricky. Parents can assess their own children as long as the superintendent approves, and HSLDA believes that superintendents should approve any parent who is in compliance with New York law unless the school district has a specific objection involving a specific parent.
In the case of this family, the local superintendent changed his mind and wanted someone other than the parents to assess their two youngest children for the 2017-2018 school year. But that desire was not adequately conveyed to the parents, who missed an email and a letter from the public school district on the topic in part because they were dealing with medical and car troubles.
So when the parents submitted a written narrative of their students’ progress—as they had the previous year—they were told they would be placed on probation. This placed the family at risk of severe repercussions. Under state regulations, students on probation who fail to meet remediation goals after two years can be ordered to stop homeschooling.
An Abuse of Power
We quickly responded and appealed the superintendent’s decision to the board of education as permitted under New York law. Tj Schmidt, HSLDA’s attorney for New York, contacted the school district’s attorney, pointing out that while the law does give officials the authority to place homeschool programs on probation, they should only resort to this measure in response to poor academic performance. A disagreement over the annual assessment does not justify placing a family on probation.
Schmidt also noted that these parents “have complied with New York homeschool law for the past 17 years. In our opinion there is no legitimate reason why they should be denied the opportunity to conduct the alternative written narrative evaluation for their younger children.”
In our appeal of the superintendent’s decision we had the family submit additional information about their students’ academic performance that further substantiated the parents’ written narrative assessment.
Though we were prepared to take further legal action, it wasn’t necessary. Officials removed the family from probation and the additional assessment results were accepted.
Darren Jones, an attorney on HSLDA’s litigation team who helped with the case, said he was pleased that the conflict was resolved without escalating further.
He added that the situation provides a valuable reminder about dealing with officials. “Like this family did,” Jones said, “always contact HSLDA as soon as possible when you run into a conflict with your school district so we can de-escalate the situation as we did here.”