Camila* is from El Salvador but has lived in Virginia for more than 15 years. When she legally withdrew her 8-year-old daughter to homeschool in September, her school division in Alexandria accused her of not complying with the law and threatened her with truancy charges. Camila feels local officials are treating her this way because of her Hispanic identity.
Reading struggles, anxiety, and panic
In the fall of 2021, Camila first noticed her daughter, Ana, was struggling to vocalize and pronounce letters. She even told Ana’s teacher she suspected her daughter had dyslexia and asked if the school could help with resources so Ana could take a dyslexia test.
“Those are strong words,” the teacher replied.
“She said it as if I was implying my daughter had a learning disability, which was somehow insensitive. I know all kids can have different ways to learn, and I worried this was Ana’s case,” Camila said.
The school never gave Camila any resources for Ana to take a dyslexia test. They told her the test was not necessary and that Ana would have extra reading time. Throughout the year, Camila had to attend three school meetings, where she was told Ana was improving.
Camila did not see any improvements at all.
Ana still could not pronounce the letter d and she would even invent words when she was trying to pronounce the letter. Nevertheless, Camila decided to re-enroll Ana for public school beginning in September 2022.
Less than a month later the school called Camila saying that Ana was suffering from serious stomach aches and frequent trips to the bathroom. Camila picked her up and noticed Ana was extremely frustrated and anxious.
“She kept crying and telling me she didn’t want to go back to school,” Camila said. “She panicked because she wasn’t learning how to read as quickly and as well as other kids were, and on top of that, she was being bullied by another kid in her class.”
Homeschooling as an alternative
Camila decided to withdraw Ana from public school and started taking her to a homeschool support group. Within a couple of days, Ana felt less nervous. Her stomach aches went away, and she was no longer going to the restroom as frequently as before. She also felt less timid and more confident.
The same week Camila withdrew Ana from school, she became an HSLDA member and submitted the required paperwork to start homeschooling. She used HSLDA forms to file a letter of withdrawal and a notice of intent to both the school division and her city, Alexandria. She also attached a detailed home instruction program for Ana. It all seemed so simple.
Until it wasn’t.
Court threats and intimidation
A couple of days after filing her paperwork, a school social worker called Camila and said she was considered truant because Ana stopped attending school. Camila indicated she had legally filed the required paperwork, but the social worker replied that the school employee in charge of reviewing homeschooling paperwork had not yet informed her of this.
“Turns out the school representative that reviews such paperwork had been working from home and nobody had been able to contact her. But that was not my problem,” Camila said. Nevertheless, the social worker told Camila she could be taken to court and advised her to attend a meeting with the school’s attendance committee.
The next day, another school social worker called Camila.
“She needed to know Ana was doing okay and asked me if I was going to the meeting with the school’s attendance committee. I said I was not going because I had complied with the law and there was no need for me to go,” Camila said.
After this, Camila felt troubled and called the school employee who was reviewing her homeschool paperwork and asked why she hadn’t informed the social workers of Camila’s intent to homeschool Ana. After all, they were calling as if she had never sent a letter of withdrawal and a notice of intent.
The school representative said the paperwork Camila had filed was insufficient because she did not use the Alexandria school division's forms and she did not submit a high school diploma.
Camila replied she wouldn’t submit her high school diploma because she had already submitted a detailed curriculum—one of the four ways parents can establish a homeschool program under Virginia law. This did not convince the school representative. And even when Camila filed her paperwork again using Alexandria’s forms, the school worker still insisted she had to submit a high school diploma.
Camila started to feel intimidated because she felt this harassment had to do with her Hispanic roots:
At the start of the phone call, I asked if she could speak to me in Spanish because it is my preferred language. I know how to speak English, but I felt more comfortable speaking Spanish. At one point, the school employee said to me: ‘I imagine you have a high school diploma, right?’ I instantly knew she was doubting my instruction qualifications just because I felt more comfortable speaking Spanish. She supposed I was not qualified just because I wanted to speak in my native language. I felt intimidated for being a Latina.
Once again, a high school diploma is not required
On the morning of the following day, Camila called HSLDA. Senior Counsel Scott Woodruff took her case, with help from one of our Spanish interpreters. He then sent a letter to the school representative expressing that Camila had submitted the paperwork legally.
“The law does not require that a family use any form when either withdrawing a child or filing a notice of intent and provides that a high school diploma is not mandatory but is only one of four options for how a parent may qualify to provide home instruction,” he wrote.
After Scott sent the letter, the school staff member called Camila and told her HSLDA lawyers were wrong and that they were only taking Camila’s money. However, Camila has not received any more calls or threats from the school since then.
Ana has been homeschooled since and has not exhibited any more anxiety symptoms. She’s making progress in reading at her own pace and is no longer worried about encountering the classroom bully.
“She’s more spontaneous, less timid. She likes to talk about what she’s learning and feels more confident about herself,” Camila said happily. “She now does her homework on her own because she understands it. I no longer need to supervise her.”
Camila added she is very thankful to HSLDA for getting back to her at such short notice and for legally advising her in Spanish.
If you know a homeschooling family who could use legal or educational consultant support in Spanish, please invite them to join HSLDA and reach out to us. We’d love to help them!
*Names changed to protect family’s privacy.