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February 13, 2015

Department of Education Creates Unauthorized Diploma

Senior Counsel Dee Black answers questions and assists members with legal issues in Pennsylvania. He and his wife homeschooled their children. Read more >>

One of the improvements to Pennsylvania’s homeschool law that went into effect on October 31, 2014, was that the Commonwealth is now required to recognize a parent-issued high school diploma the same as a diploma issued by public schools. The diploma was to be developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education on a standardized form in accordance with the diploma requirements contained in the new law. Unfortunately, when the department unveiled the diploma form earlier this month, it was a far cry from what the law authorized and what homeschoolers expected.

The instructions to the department in the enacted bill were simple and straightforward. The form was to be a “high school diploma” awarded by the supervisor (parent, guardian, or legal custodian of the child). The diploma was to be signed by the student’s 12th grade evaluator chosen by the parent, thereby confirming that the student had completed all graduation requirements while enrolled in the home education program that was in compliance with the law. Instead, the department produced a “Home Education Diploma,” which on its face gave no indication that it was a high school diploma or what level of education the student had attained. The form also had a line for the “optional” signature of the public school superintendent. Further, the diploma included a blank requiring the name of the student’s school district of residence.

An Affront

Why is the diploma form developed by the department of education an affront to home educators in Pennsylvania? First, the new law clearly obligates the department to create a standardized form for a “high school diploma,” not a document with a name that prospective employers, postsecondary education officials, military recruiters, and others have never heard of and will question what it means. Second, even though the superintendent’s signature is shown as optional, the form states that the purpose of the signature is to certify that (1) the supervisor submitted an affidavit for the graduation year of the student, (2) the evaluator fulfills the legal requirements as a secondary level home education program evaluator, and (3) the evaluator’s 12th grade evaluation for the student was submitted to the school district. But the new law does not require that a superintendent certify any of these items in connection with the award of a high school diploma by a parent. Further, the absence of the superintendent’s signature, even though it is optional, will inevitably raise questions about why the superintendent did not sign the diploma. Third, while having the name of the student’s school district on the diploma is not objectionable in itself, the department’s stated purpose for this information has no legal basis. The department says that naming the school district is to enable persons to contact the school district to verify the diploma’s authenticity in the event the superintendent does not sign the diploma. Even if this were appropriate, it wrongly assumes that school districts continue to keep homeschool records for years in the future.

In this flagrant deviation from state law, the department has not only disregarded the explicit instructions of the Pennsylvania General Assembly but has also thwarted the legislative intent that homeschool graduates receive a parent-issued “high school diploma” based on the findings of an evaluator alone. Home School Legal Defense Association is working with state officials to correct these violations.

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