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June 25, 2014

Island Homeschoolers Face Transportation Discrimination

Staff Attorney Tj Schmidt answers questions and assists members with legal issues in Washington. He and his wife homeschool their children. Read more >>

Recently a member family from the Puget Sound contacted HSLDA about being unable to obtain the educational discount rate for the Washington State Ferry (WSF). For years, homeschoolers in the area had received a reduced rate by providing a letter stating that a specific ferry trip was for an education-related purpose.

Recently, WSF began instructing homeschoolers to include their local school district number on the letter. Our member family was contacted in May by their local school district demanding that they stop utilizing the district number. Public school officials alleged that the family was “fraudulently” trying to get the discounted rate, and that the family should not imply it had any connection with the school district.

Specific Instructions

The WSF website states that “[h]ome school groups associated with local school districts should request a letter of authorization from their school district.” When the member family attempted to request such a letter, the district refused, and moreover, the WSF workers at the local ferry were specifically instructed not to provide a discounted rate to the member family’s homeschool.

WSF’s reference to “home school groups associated with local school districts” is confusing, and the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) is not very helpful. A broad reading of 468-300-010 WAC would appear to allow private home-based education programs to be eligible for the school group discount.

After learning of the situation, HSLDA Staff Attorney Tj Schmidt contacted WSF for clarification of its policy. He advocated that a home-based education program could be eligible for the educational discount since a home-based education program is an educational program authorized by Washington law. Home-based educational programs also participate in many outside educational activities for the benefit of their students.

Seeking Clarity

WSF’s response to Schmidt provided no further clarification of the policy, but simply reiterated the information available on their website. This information appears to highlight “homeschool groups” that participate in at least some part-time attendance within the local public school, not individual private home-based education programs. HSLDA and the family is attempting to contact various state legislators to help clarify how the policy applies to homeschooling families not directly affiliated with the local public school. We hope to have a good outcome to this situation.

This member family’s plight is unfortunately typical of many homeschoolers who are refused services, discounts, or job opportunities simply because they are home educators. HSLDA encourages member to contact us so we can help in these situations. At times it is necessary to draw local elected officials’ attention to these inequities so they can be righted through appropriate legislation.

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