The digital era’s increasing demand for information appears to be creating an unfortunate consequence for some homeschool families. They’re being asked to comply with bureaucratic requirements that are unnecessary—and in some cases border on the absurd.
This problem was illustrated again recently in New York. St. Regis Falls Central School District officials told a family who wanted to switch from private school that their initial homeschool paperwork could not be accepted.
The reason? Officials said the family could not homeschool unless they first enrolled their children in the public school.
Understandably perplexed, the family contacted Home School Legal Defense Association for help.
HSLDA Staff Attorney Tj Schmidt agreed to intercede, explaining that the situation fits a pattern he’s seen while dealing with dozens of similar cases in various states.
“Typically these enrollment issues come up with families who move into the district” he said. If a family has been homeschooling in a different part of the state, he added, there’s no mechanism for transferring their paperwork from one school district to another.
What sometimes happens in a case like this, Schmidt noted, is that officials will look at the local district’s database and see there is no record for the family’s students. So they assume that their own enrollment files are the place to start.
“It’s not that the district is purposing to do anything fraudulent,” said Schmidt. “More and more schools are going to digital records. They just want to capture all the student’s information and create a file. They say to themselves: ‘This is how it’s done.’”
Except that according to state law and policy, it’s not.
Stick with the Rules
As Schmidt pointed out in his letter to the district on behalf of the family, this issue is addressed pretty high up in the New York State Education Department’s Q&A on homeschooling, which has been around since the 1990s.
The second question asks if homeschoolers are required to enroll with the local public school district.
“The answer is no,” Schmidt said.
Complying with a district’s demand to register or enroll, then, not only creates an unnecessary burden on the front end of homeschooling, Schmidt explained, it can also cause problems later on.
“I’ve seen in several states,” he said, “where schools will do a mass mailing to everyone in their database. Sometimes these mailings are asking families to do something like provide extra records. I can’t recall a situation where a homeschool family was actually legally required to provide the information being requested.”
For a homeschool family, receiving a message of this sort—when it doesn’t apply to them—can be confusing at least.
Schmidt insisted these headaches can be avoided if officials simply follow the law.
“There’s no reason homeschool parents should have to jump through all these hoops,” he said.
In the case of the St. Regis Falls family, our letter to officials proved effective. The parents contacted us again to say their notice of intent and Individualized Home Instruction Plan had been accepted.
“Most grateful for the legal help!” they added.
We’re happy to report the family is now free to develop a customized education program that will help keep their kids safe and learning.