April 9, 2003

Bad Law, Bad Outcome in Vermont

Vermont homeschoolers have struggled for years under an out-of-date homeschool law. When it was first enacted in the late 1980's, it was fairly "progressive," but as homeschooling has proven more and more and successful, Vermont's homeschool statute has appeared increasingly antiquated. The unwieldy statute is implemented by the Vermont Department of Education, which must determine whether every single "enrollment" meets their ever-shifting standards. This has resulted in increasing friction and court cases, reaching to the highest court of the state. Unfortunately, the Vermont Supreme Court has just ruled against homeschoolers. In the new case, In re S.M., the court ruled that Vermont's law, which requires each family to provide "independent professional evidence on whether the child is handicapped," should be interpreted the way the Department of Education interpreted it, not the way that homeschoolers did. The court said, "Absent compelling indications of error, interpretations of administrative regulations or statutes by the agency responsible for their execution will be sustained on appeal." This means that any disputes between homeschoolers and the Department of Education under the existing law will be deferred to the agency.

Even the best lawyers cannot make bad legislation good, but Home School Legal Defense Association made a valiant attempt to show the justices how arbitrary the Department of Education has become. The court wrote, "We recognize that appellants fear that the Vermont Department of Education will go further and begin judging the merits of the conclusion of the independent professional. If that occurs, the parents involved can contest the Department's action. This is not that case."

HSLDA does not intend to wait until homeschooling parents are actually harmed by the changeable requirements of the Department of Education. We urge all Vermont homeschoolers to work together to eliminate the current provisions of Vermont law that force homeschoolers to provide "independent professional evidence" that their children are not handicapped. Forty-nine other states have no such requirement. Vermont's law is unjust and inefficient. It is time for a change. HSLDA is committed to working with Vermont's state homeschool organizations to make that change happen.