It happens all across the country. Parents follow the steps the law prescribes for homeschooling, but for various reasons, officials decide it isn’t enough. Suddenly, parents are faced with demands for more—more private information, more student records, more hoops to jump through.
Much of the time, these unwarranted demands follow the pattern we’ve witnessed recently in Pennsylvania. The state’s copious homeschool regulations offer opportunities for officials to misinterpret and misapply the law, to the detriment of parents who are simply trying to provide the best education they can for their children.
We’ve chronicled a few cases to illustrate some of the more common obstacles parents encounter when homeschooling. These situations also provide a quick study of Home School Legal Defense Association’s day-to-day advocacy.
HSLDA members in several Pennsylvania school districts contacted us at the start of the school year to report officials were misinterpreting the legal requirement of homeschooling parents to notify districts of their intent to homeschool.
Our families received letters stating they had to “register” their children with the local public school district before their homeschool programs could be “approved.”
That’s not how the law works.
When parents choose to homeschool, they are exercising their constitutional right to direct the upbringing of their children. Public school officials have no authority to curtail this right. While students enrolling in public schools do need to register, this does not apply to homeschool students.
We suspect that a misapprehension regarding this aspect of the law inspires quite a few misguided demands from school officials.
For example, the same districts that said parents needed “approval” to homeschool also tried to collect information in an unauthorized manner. Officials in these districts told parents to use the same online portal which collects information from students enrolling in public school.
As HSLDA Senior Counsel Will Estrada pointed out, this demand caused several problems. The online portal asked homeschooling parents to share things about their children they don’t have to divulge—such as birth dates and allergies. Using the online portal also risked causing confusion over the educational status of students by potentially mixing homeschoolers’ data with that of public school students.
We think using the portal is a bad idea.
“This is the public school’s registration system,” said Estrada. “It is simply inapplicable for homeschool students.”
The confusion over proper documentation continued elsewhere in Pennsylvania.
Officials in yet another public school district asked homeschooling parents to submit proof of residency. They pledged to accept any number of documents: rental agreements, mortgage statements, utility bills.
However, state laws don’t require homeschoolers to comply with such a request, said Estrada. What’s more, it makes little sense for homeschooling families to prove they are legal residents when they are not asking for services from the district.
Estrada noted that if a homeschool student is seeking to participate in public school sports or other activities, which is allowed under Pennsylvania law, then homeschool families may need to comply with such a request.
Happy to Explain
HSLDA was able to serve two other homeschooling families by clarifying the finer points of homeschool law. Both dealt with Pennsylvania’s provision for homeschooling with a private tutor.
Officials at one district told parents they would not be allowed to employ a certain tutor. Though the instructor met the qualification of being certified to teach in Pennsylvania’s public school, officials said he was otherwise disqualified from homeschooling because he had not remained current with continuing education requirements.
Estrada explained that the state legislature had specifically exempted private tutors who teach homeschool students from the law requiring continuing professional development.
“The school district thanked us for notifying them and immediately dropped this demand,” Estrada said.
An official at a different district reached out to Estrada to ask whether parents who hire a tutor had to be certified teachers as well. He quickly pointed her to the specific statute stating that homeschooling parents don’t have to hold professional teaching credentials.
“She was very grateful for the information,” Estrada said. “She told me: ‘I thought I was going to have to contact our district’s attorney. But now I can tell the family that they are all set!”
All in a Day’s Work
Unwarranted demands, requests for private information, and confusion over the law—these are issues HSLDA attorneys confront every day, from every part of the country.
And though these problems may seem minor by some standards, they can appear overwhelming to homeschooling families.
“Homeschooling parents should be free to focus on providing their children a personalized education in a loving environment,” Estrada said. “HSLDA is happy to shoulder legal burdens on behalf of our members, so they can concentrate on the reason they chose to homeschool—preparing their kids to take their place in society.”