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April 14, 2009

HSLDA Wins Hearing Defending Family’s Right to Homeschool

HSLDA successfully defended the Judd family’s home study program in a second hearing called by the Commissioner of Education. Home School Legal Defense Association Staff Attorney Michael Donnelly represented the family in both hearings.

The case was complex because of the conflicting testimony by experts over whether Zackery has learning disabilities. All agreed, however, that the little boy was somewhat delayed in reading for his age and had difficulty focusing his attention at times. Of course, this is not unlike many typical 8-year-old boys.

“Zackery wasn’t as ready as my other two children to start formal schooling,” observed Mrs Judd. “My daughter was much more ready, and even Zackery’s brother is more ready to start first grade than he was. That is one thing that I like about homeschooling. I can teach each one based on their own unique needs.”

However, for the Judds, it was Zackery’s unique needs that resulted in a long ordeal that could have ended in a hearing officer denying their right to homeschool him.

Vermont’s home study law is unique because it requires parents who wish to homeschool their children to prove that each child doesn’t have any disabilities. A disability can range from being deaf, to having a disease or having ADHD, like Zackery. Regardless, the parents must submit written adaptations and services, and if the Department of Education doesn’t agree with them a hearing is called. Vermont is the only state that requires parents to submit this form of paperwork.

A dispute over paperwork and whether Zackery has a learning disability resulted in the first hearing. After three days of testimony, the hearing officer agreed to enroll the Judd children in the family’s homeschool but ordered that Zackery undergo “comprehensive testing to determine whether he was eligible for special education.” The family subjected Zackery to extensive testing—both private and through the public school. Then after attempting to reach a settlement with the DOE, a second hearing was called. After two days of testimony by experts, the hearing officer ordered Zackery be enrolled.

In his order, the hearing officer noted that “[T]he home study statute reflects a careful balance between the interests of the state in ensuring students receive an adequate education and the rights of parents to direct the education of their children.”

This case points out two of the serious flaws of Vermont’s home study law.

First, a pre-enrollment hearing, like this one, places the burden on parents to prove that what they are doing is acceptable. This is wrong. Fit parents should not have to prove that their educational plan is acceptable to the state. Second, no other state requires parents to prove the absence of a disability or to submit to state review any services or adaptations for a child with a disability before they can homeschool. Research by University of Idaho Professor and School Psychologist Dr. Steven F. Duvall has demonstrated that children with special learning needs make more progress in a homeschool environment than in a public or private school environment, in part, because they get such high levels of attention on an individualized basis.

Furthermore, Vermont law requires that local schools provide equal access to parents for all services, including special education services. Parents who wish to take advantage of those services can do so if they choose and shouldn’t have to inform the state of services or adaptations they are providing. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that fit parents should be presumed to be doing what is in their child’s best interest unless proven otherwise. Vermont policy makers could improve their law significantly by acting on this notion of trusting parents.

The Vermont Home Education Network is planning a day at the Capitol on April 21. All homeschoolers in Vermont are encouraged to attend to voice their opinion about the state of Vermont’s home study law.

 Other Resources

For more information about HSLDA’s work in Vermont and the Capitol Day >>