Efforts by Chicago officials to prevent a precipitous drop in public school enrollment have also made it difficult for some families to invoke their legal right to homeschool.
Since June, the city has been contacting some 100,000 students identified as at risk of not showing up when full-time, in-person instruction resumes this fall. That’s about one-third of overall enrollment for the 2020–21 school year.
In an interview with WLS-TV, Mayor Lori Lightfoot described the campaign as “a very robust outreach” that employed “postcards, door knocks, text messages, and the like.”
Going above and beyond in their support of this campaign, schools in Chicago have established policies that invent new and unlawful demands of parents who want to withdraw their children from public school in order to start homeschooling. These schools have been insisting that parents file certain forms and provide personal information, when in fact Illinois law does not require families to submit any paperwork before beginning to homeschool.
“Several schools within the city are telling parents that they must register their homeschool with the state and file a statement of assurance with the local school district,” explained Dan Beasley, staff attorney with Home School Legal Defense Association.
He added, "these contrived requirements not only usurp the authority of Illinois’ elected legislators, but also discourage some parents from choosing an educational option that is the best fit for their children.”
HSLDA recently advocated for several families who were placed in a quandary because of one of these false requirements.
The parents informed officials at the public schools their children previously attended that they planned to homeschool for the coming academic year. Officials replied that the parents first had to fill out a form that city schools developed on their own authority—one that asked for specific, private information.
If parents refused to fill out the form and homeschooled anyway, officials warned, the parents risked having their children counted as truant.
Beasley contacted school officials on behalf of the families. He explained that state law does not give individual school districts the authority to make up their own rules regarding homeschooling.
What the Law Says
In fact, according to the letter of the law, homeschools in Illinois are actually considered home-based private schools. There are a few guidelines outlining what private schools are supposed to teach, but there is no registration requirement.
Beasley pointed out to the Chicago school officials that this means “parents are not required by law to submit any form to the state or local officials as a precondition to educating their child at home.”
He added that by raising arbitrary obstacles to homeschooling, Chicago officials had also violated the spirit of Illinois law.
Beasley cited the state supreme court’s opinion in People v. Levisen (1950), which recognizes “the natural obligation of parents to provide an education for their young.” In regard to the compulsory school attendance law, the court added the following: “The object is that all shall be educated, not that they shall be educated in any particular manner or place.”
In other words, Illinois parents are free to choose homeschooling. And HSLDA stands ready to defend any family whose educational freedom is curtailed.