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February 27, 2017

Officials Interpret Law as a License to Pry

When a family in eastern Pennsylvania began homeschooling, they were surprised to receive requests from public school officials demanding paperwork the family didn’t think was legally required.

The assistant superintendent had asked them to provide specific documentation verifying their child’s age, residency, and medical records—documentation that is routinely collected from (and required to be on file for) students enrolled in public school. But the family’s 8-year-old daughter was not enrolled in public school. She was being homeschooled.

The mother wrote a letter to the assistant superintendent stating that her homeschool affidavit and attachments, which the family had sent to the school district, contained everything that Pennsylvania law requires for home education programs.

She then got a call from the school secretary, who told her: “The law also states that the district can request anything else that we need.”

When the mother spoke with the assistant superintendent, she was told that the district would not sign off on her homeschool program until she provided the information requested. The mother was also told she would be hearing from the school district’s lawyer.

Not so Fast

That’s when the family contacted Home School Legal Defense Association. As the contact attorney for Pennsylvania members, I was happy to help.

Pennsylvania’s homeschool statute specifically outlines what a parent must do to begin homeschooling. This family followed the requirements. They had not, however, jumped through the additional hoops that the school district told them to jump through.

In reviewing the letters from the school officials, I noticed that in addition to requesting unwarranted information, the assistant superintendent quoted school policy and cited it as state law. While this was likely an oversight, it’s an indication of the underlying problem.

School districts have no authority to establish policies or procedures which add to or contradict the provisions of state law concerning home education programs. Unfortunately, many school officials do not have a thorough understanding of the legal requirements for homeschooling. HSLDA frequently assists homeschooling parents who receive unwarranted requests from well-meaning but overzealous school officials.

I wrote the assistant superintendent and explained that parents may establish legal homeschools by complying with the statutory provisions governing homeschools. Their decision to do so is not subject to the discretionary approval of public school officials. Because this family followed the law, they were legally homeschooling regardless of whether the school district signed off on their paperwork.

I did not receive a response to my letter. The mother reports that the family’s homeschooling is going well.