September 8, 2003

HSLDA Defends Pennsylvania Family

Even though Pennsylvania has one of the most stringent laws in the country, superintendents and school districts attempt every year to make it even harder for homeschoolers. This year, HSLDA is defending a family who has been called to a special hearing to defend their compliance with the law.

In accordance with their religious beliefs, Dr. and Mrs. Springer* have been homeschooling their son Ian* for four years. In May 2003, they received a letter from their local assistant superintendent, Dr. Brent, demanding that Mrs. Springer schedule an appointment with him to review Ian's progress. The letter stated that if they did not contact the school district office to schedule an appointment, one would be set for her, since such a meeting was required by the home education law.

Mrs. Springer immediately contacted Home School Legal Defense Association, who responded to Dr. Brent and explained that the law did not require such a meeting, and that Dr. and Mrs. Springer declined to meet with him. As far as we know, Dr. and Mrs. Springer were the only family who refused to meet with Dr. Brent.

After the Springers submitted Ian's portfolio at the end of the school year, they received another letter from Dr. Brent, insisting that the portfolio must include records of Ian's daily performance in his subjects. He also claimed that the log should include the day and date of instruction and indicate, by subject or content area, what was covered in each area each day. As HSLDA pointed out in our next letter to Dr. Brent, in fact, according to law, the portfolio must contain a log, made contemporaneously with the instruction, which designates by title the reading materials used, but it does not have to be a daily log. Mrs. Springer had already submitted such a portfolio and log, along with an evaluation by a certified teacher. Her log showed that Ian had read over 100 books during his fourth grade year.

When Dr. Brent threatened truancy charges against the Springers, HSLDA quickly pointed him to the homeschool statute, which requires a hearing before a duly qualified and impartial hearing examiner in situations where the superintendent questions whether adequate education is occurring. Dr. Brent then called a hearing, which is scheduled for September 18. Dr. Brent has never said that he has determined that Mrs. Springer is not providing appropriate education, as the statute requires as a predicate to calling a hearing; instead, he simply stated that Mrs. Springer's log does not meet his requirements.

"The most frustrating aspect of this case," said James R. Mason, III, Litigation Counsel for Home School Legal Defense Association, "is that there is absolutely no question that Ian is receiving a superb education. His mother holds a masters degree in education, and his father holds a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and is a part-time college professor. Ian's test scores last year placed him in the 92nd percentile of other third graders - and this even though according to his age he should have been in the second grade last year and in the third grade this year."

Thankfully, the question before the hearing examiner will be whether "appropriate education" has occurred, not whether Mrs. Springer's submission conforms to Dr. Brent's expectations. Appropriate education as defined by Pennsylvania law has three requirements: (1) instruction in certain required subjects, (2) for the required time, and (3) sustained progress in the overall program.

Dr. Brent has never questioned whether the required subjects have been taught, so that is not an issue in this hearing. In fact, Mrs. Springer has submitted clear proof that she and Dr. Springer taught Ian in all subjects required by Pennsylvania law, plus other subjects such as Latin, French, and piano and clarinet lessons.

The law requires either 180 days or 900 hours of instruction. Mrs. Springer provided an attendance log to Dr. Brent that demonstrates that 181 days of instruction occurred.

Finally, a certified teacher has evaluated Ian's program and has concluded that sustained progress has occurred. Additionally, the work samples, and contemporaneously made reading lists demonstrate that significant, grade-appropriate work was performed.

It appears that Dr. Brent has routinely required face-to-face meetings with all homeschoolers in his district and that he has accepted portfolios that he considered deficient if the parent agreed to meet with him. This was true of Mrs. Springer last year, when Dr. Brent scolded her for not having all of the technical jots and tittles in place in her portfolio, but nevertheless acknowledged after she met with him that appropriate education had occurred.

By taking this case, HSLDA hopes to show that the burdensome Pennsylvania law is putting unnecessary stress on thousands of homeschooling families who are providing excellent education for their children.

* Names have been changed to protect privacy.