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June 20, 2006

Federal Regulations Threaten Religious Liberty

The Department of Education shocked many Ohio families this June by sending out a new form for non-chartered, non-tax-supported schools (“08 schools”).

The new paperwork says, “Due to changes in Federal IDEIA regulations, this information is now required of ALL schools.” The form then asks the 08 school to list the following items not required by Ohio law:

  • Local school district,
  • Telephone;
  • Current grade span;
  • Number of students enrolled;
  • Number of children identified as having special needs;
  • Use of local public school district services;
  • Building address (if different from mailing address);
  • Statement of religious beliefs;
  • Academic calendar;
  • Hours of operation,
  • And the names of all administrators and/or teachers, complete with their degrees and the names of the institutions that granted those degrees.

The Department cites new federal regulations implementing a federal statute. The statute, 20 U.S.C. sec. 1412 (a)(10), requires public school officials to make efforts to determine the number of children with special needs who attend private schools. The regulation, 34 C.F.R. 300.133, requires each state to develop policies and procedures that ensure that these requirements are met. The Department has complied with these new federal regulations by developing new forms and sending them out-but non-chartered, non-tax-supported schools in Ohio can still satisfy the law by turning in Home School Legal Defense Association’s existing 08 school forms.

If the Ohio Department of Education wants to change the requirements for operating an 08 school, they have to amend the regulations, not just write new forms. To make substantive changes to the non-chartered, non-tax-supported school regulations, the Department would have to follow Ohio’s Administrative Procedures Act, which means that interested parties must be provided notice and an opportunity to comment on the changes.

The Department of Education may try to “reject” HSLDA’s forms, but 08 schools do not need state “approval” to operate. Non-chartered, non-tax-supported schools operate at the highest level of constitutional protection. If 08 schools stick to the letter of Ohio law, it will be extraordinarily hard for the Department to shut them down. If home and private school families will stick together in the face of these new Department of Education demands, educational and religious freedom will easily weather this new challenge.