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September 12, 2007

School District Threatens to Destroy Portfolios

At the beginning of July of this year, the director of pupil services at West Shore School District sent a letter to homeschooling families notifying them that the school district intended to destroy their portfolios if they were not picked up by August 31. These families had submitted a portfolio of their children’s school work at the end of June for review by public school officials as required by Pennsylvania law.

After being contacted by a Home School Legal Defense Association member family who had received the school official’s letter, Senior Counsel Dewitt Black sent a letter to the school district’s attorney to complain about the proposed destruction of the portfolios. Black’s letter pointed out that state law requires the local superintendent to return the portfolio documentation to the parents at the completion of his review. Black expressed his opinion that the arbitrary deadline of August 31, after which the portfolios would be destroyed, was contrary to the statutory obligation of the superintendent to return the portfolio materials to the parents. The letter also stated that the unlawful destruction of the parents’ property would subject the school district to a claim for damages.

The school district’s attorney contacted HSLDA after receiving Black’s letter and agreed not to enforce the initial August 31 deadline. He also stated that there may be an instance when a parent fails or refuses to pick up a portfolio after an extended period of time, thereby requiring some sort of resolution for that particular situation. Apparently, West Shore School District has experienced difficulty with parents retrieving their portfolios on a timely basis.

While HSLDA believes that school districts may not set arbitrary or unreasonable deadlines for parents to pick up their portfolios and thereafter destroy them, school districts also have no duty to store portfolios indefinitely. The prudent approach is for families to promptly retrieve their portfolios after being notified that the evaluation by the superintendent has been completed. However, if a school district takes an unreasonable position in setting a deadline such as our member family encountered in West Shore School District, HSLDA stands ready to assist them with such administrative difficulties.