When Aleily Guerrero told the local public school in New York City that she could do a better job providing for her son’s special education needs at home, officials weren’t so sure.

They said that before Aleily could begin homeschooling, she needed to consult with experts and have her son evaluated for at-home services. And then there was the mountain of paperwork that officials insisted Aleily had to complete in order for her son, 16-year-old Ariel, to be removed from the class rolls.

Aleily said she found the resistance she encountered not just frustrating, but also alarming, because she felt that officials failed to understand that she only wanted what was best for her child. And as a naturalized citizen who primarily speaks Spanish, the language barrier she faced only complicated the task of navigating all those homeschool requirements.  

“First of all, they did not like that I was going to take him out of school,” she explained in a recent interview. “The parent coordinator told me, ‘No! You cannot do that!’ They raised up all these obstacles. Nobody there knew what it was I was requesting. Nobody, nobody knew.”

Safe at Home

The decision to homeschool actually germinated in March 2020 when schools shut down in-person classes due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ariel began distance learning with the aid of a computer, which he discovered he enjoyed.

Free from the distractions of a conventional classroom and safe at home, said Aleily, her son began showing significant academic progress. When public schools reopened, and Ariel returned to classes, those gains began to erode.

Aleily determined to keep Ariel at home and began the process of establishing a homeschool. School officials contacted her nearly every day, warning that her son could be marked absent unless Aleily did as she was told.

“I was stressed daily,” she recalled. “I thought the police would come to look for me at my house because my son was not going to the school.”

Language Barrier

Aleily pressed forward on her plan, but struggled at first to find Spanish-language homeschool information and advice.

Aleily is originally from the Dominican Republic; at age 16, she moved with her mother to the Bronx. Four years later, she became an American citizen.

During an online search, Aleily found Home School Legal Defense Association’s summaries of state homeschool laws in Spanish. She then connected with HSLDA bilingual membership representatives Marialena Zachariah and Marilú Herrera. They, in turn, introduced Aleily to HSLDA’s legal team and special needs consultants.

Staff attorney Tj Schmidt contacted Ariel’s former school, explaining to officials that they had been misinterpreting the law and that Aleily had the right to decline special education services.

“To their credit,” said Tj, “school officials quickly acknowledged their mistake and promised to correct it once we contacted them.”

Marialena continued to work closely with Aleily, providing translation services and helping the mom understand the forms she needed to submit.

Free to Learn

Finally, a few weeks ago, Aleily received word that her paperwork had been processed and that there were no more questions regarding Ariel’s status as a student.

The news “was such a relief in my life!” recalled Aleily. “I at once said, ‘Thank you, my Lord!’”

Tj said, “While it is rewarding to be able help homeschool parents who face obstacles to their decision to homeschool, I will be much happier when school officials acknowledge that (most) homeschool parents are acting in the best interests of their children!”

The mother added that she’s especially pleased to see her son thriving. Ariel has advanced two grades levels beyond where he had been placed by his public school teachers.

“He is happy and getting good grades,” said Aleily. Ariel is also showing an aptitude for art and computer programming.

“Ariel lives to paint and draw,” recounted Aleily. “For Christmas, Thanksgiving—any holiday—he makes a drawing of everyone: of his sister, his niece, his grandmother.” She added that she hopes to buy her son a tablet computer to draw on.

Now that she and her son are homeschooling in peace, Aleily insists she would recommend the educational option to other families—even if they encounter obstacles along the way.

In that case, she said, “I would tell other parents not to give up, but to defend their children with ‘a cape and sword.’”