With most schools across the nation closed in order to help keep students and staff safe from the novel coronavirus, parents are already facing difficult decisions about their children’s education. Now we’re hearing that officials in some areas are trying to forbid the one choice that may do families the most good: transitioning to full-time homeschooling.
In Florida, Amber had considered homeschooling her kids beginning in the fall but decided to accelerate those plans when schools began to shift to online instruction in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
She knew that her children would not do well with online learning. So Amber notified the Palm Beach County School District that she was establishing a home education program and planned to start teaching her two children using more traditional textbooks and curriculum materials.
When she didn’t hear anything from her local school officials, Amber sent a follow-up email to the home education contact a week later, thanking several teachers and asking for confirmation that her home education notice was received. Amber understood that everyone was probably still scrambling to adjust to the coronavirus crisis, so she was pleasantly surprised to get a response a short time later.
Unfortunately, the message was really just the first in a series of bureaucratic roadblocks.
The home education contact informed Amber that teachers would begin rolling out programs for all public school students soon, but that this delay did not prevent parents “from providing enrichment for your children.” Amber was encouraged to “give [the] school the opportunity to provide education for [her] family.”
After Amber replied that she was really going to be homeschooling her children and that she had no intention of doing virtual school, the school official confirmed that the notice of intent had been received. The official added that while the district staff couldn’t process Amber’s home education notification until her children were withdrawn from their previous school, “[we] are working as quickly as possible to assist students and families.”
However, Amber was appalled by the email she received the next morning. The home education contact stated that “according to upper leadership, all students will stay with current Palm Beach County Schools until further notice, according to the Enrollment and Withdrawal Procedures for the Virtual Continuity Support Plan.”
“My jaw dropped,” Amber said. “I realized they were trying to tell me that my children would not be withdrawn, and that I couldn’t homeschool.”
Keeping Kids Enrolled
Amber’s experience is not isolated. Willamette Connections Academy, an online public school in Oregon, recently posted a message on its website declaring “the Oregon Department of Education has advised that no students are able to withdraw or enroll in any schools during the school closure.”
The message cited a recent executive order by Governor Kate Brown, an order which we believe the Willamette Connections Academy misinterpreted. What the governor actually did was to freeze the enrollment status of all public schools for funding purposes. The order does not legally prevent parents from pulling their children out of a public school and homeschooling them.
Regardless, HSLDA will continue to support the legal right of parents to withdraw their children from public school in order to begin homeschooling. Though this right is precious at all times, it is especially important during crises that parents remain empowered to do what is best for their kids.
That’s why we were so prompt in helping Amber.
She realized the message from public school officials wasn’t right, so she immediately enlisted the help of a local homeschool support group. Having already joined HSLDA, she also reached out to us.
Sending a Message
As soon as I got the information from Amber, I contacted Palm Beach County. I requested that public school officials send us their Virtual Continuity Support Plan and their justification for denying a the fundamental right of parents to educate their children. I made it clear that there was no legal authority for the district to make such a declaration.
Florida Parent Educators Association (FPEA) and Cheryl with Palm Beach County (PBC) Homeschoolers, Inc. also sent information to Palm Beach County, pointing out that public school officials could not prevent parents from withdrawing their children and homeschooling them.
After learning from an online homeschool forum that several other parents had encountered this problem, Cheryl told me: “I strongly believe that parents should have the right to choose something other than the public school’s program, especially when that program isn’t working well for their children. Schools shouldn’t be able to hold students hostage.”
After FPEA, PBC Homeschoolers, and Home School Legal Defense Association all contacted Palm Beach County Public Schools, Amber received yet another email from the home education contact, stating that “upper leadership” had been contacted again for further clarification on when her children would be removed from the attendance roster. Several other families in Palm Beach County, who had also made the decision to begin homeschooling because of the schools shutting down, received similar emails.
I expect Palm Beach County to withdraw all these home education students as promptly as possible in the current crisis—certainly no later than the date schools return from their extended closure due to COVID-19.
We will continue to work with state and local leaders to ensure that no public school officials attempt to prevent anyone from homeschooling, especially in times of crisis.