How much turmoil can a clerical error cause? Just ask this Florida family, who were told in September that their homeschooled daughter had been enrolled full-time in the local public high school.
“A month into school, I got an email that she was no longer registered as a homeschooled student,” said Cathryn, the girl’s mom. “It was a complete surprise.”
But this surprise came with nasty consequences: Cathryn knew that unless her daughter’s status as a home-educated student were quickly restored, the family could be charged with unexcused absences and even truancy.
The family decided to homeschool in 2019. As required by law, they notified officials that they intended to home-educate their three children: They would homeschool the younger two children full-time, and the oldest daughter would continue to take a few classes at the local public school to augment her homeschooling curriculum.
Florida law gives homeschool students the right to participate in public school extracurricular activities, and districts may allow homeschoolers to take classes part-time.
Mistakes Were Made
The family followed the same plan this fall, and their daughter signed up for French and choir at the local high school. Then came the startling message—one that fueled Cathryn’s concerns that officials were disregarding privacy issues and mismanaging personal information.
According to Cathryn, officials said they had changed her daughter’s enrollment status from a homeschooled, part-time student to a full-time student four months earlier.
Cathryn was further perplexed and frustrated when officials contacted her own mother—the high school student’s grandmother—to ask why the granddaughter was not attending public school full time. (Not only does Cathryn’s mother lack the authority to resolve a school-enrollment issue, she doesn’t even live in Florida.)
When Cathryn contacted district officials to ask them to fix the mistake regarding her daughter’s enrollment, they said it was up to her to make the change by answering questions on an online form. When she objected, officials insisted a second time that Cathryn comply.
“I knew we weren’t required to do that or provide all the information that was asked,” said Cathryn. She also knew that trying to engage officials on her own could prove daunting. “I could have spent hours going back and forth with them.”
So she called Home School Legal Defense Association.
HSLDA Staff Attorney Tj Schmidt wrote to the school district on Cathryn’s behalf. He pointed out that her family had complied with Florida law for establishing a homeschool program by filing a notice of intent in February 2019. He added that the family had also followed the provision that they evaluate their children every year.
He asserted that since the family’s intentions had not changed, it was up to the district to correct the problem. He wrote, “No registration as a public school student is required, nor is the homeschool parent required to create accounts or submit anything online.”
Three days later, the district replied that the daughter’s homeschooling status had been restored.
Cathryn said she has yet to receive a full explanation from officials about how the mistake happened. But she’s glad to be able to focus on homeschooling, which she said her children are enjoying.
“They prefer it,” she said. “It gives them more flexibility.” As a result they can spend more time on things like sports and music.
She added that she appreciated having an organization to advocate for her family.
“I was really thankful HSLDA was there,” Cathryn said. “Without them, it could have turned into a more complicated situation.”