Fed up with arbitrary demands and the threat of being investigated by Child Protective Services (CPS), about 100 homeschool parents joined me at a recent meeting to help deliver to public school officials a simple message: “please follow the law.”
The February roundtable, with Arlington Central School District’s Deputy Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Brown and School Board President Peter Bodnar, was long overdue. It also delivered a promise of improved treatment for homeschoolers.
For several years, the district has been harassing new homeschool families by demanding documents in addition to the copious paperwork that New York law requires.
After receiving a notice of intent from families who were new to Arlington, officials would insist that these parents prove that their families were legal residents and that their children were of compulsory school age. Otherwise, officials said, they would not treat these families as being in compliance with the homeschool law.
Several parents were even threatened with CPS investigations if they didn’t provide the requested information.
The problem intensified when the 2019–2020 school year began, as Arlington Central School District saw an increase in first-time homeschool families. These families decided to homeschool their children for many reasons: a desire to provide a customized education, safety concerns, and because of changes to the immunization law.
This growth in homeschooling families was part of a trend across the state.
We ended up providing extra help to several Arlington families just to submit their notice of intent and their individualized home instruction plan (IHIP) form—all in accordance with New York law. One family, after several months of back-and-forth about providing additional information, was reported to CPS for alleged educational neglect.
I immediately reached out to CPS on behalf of the family. We quickly demonstrated that the parents had submitted all the paperwork required under the home instruction law. We also showed that the neglect allegations had been made because the family refused to submit extra documents such as proof of home ownership, copies of the parents’ driver’s licenses, and the children’s birth certificates.
Even though the investigator agreed that the parents appeared to be providing adequate education, she still wanted to come into the family’s home and interview all of the children alone. While we were able to help the family understand their rights in this situation, it was still a very stressful and traumatic experience.
Knock on the Door
It also followed a pattern. We often find that school officials in New York believe that reporting a homeschool program to CPS is the correct thing to do if there is a disagreement over certain documentation, lost forms, or misplaced paperwork. Last school year, one family in Center Moriches School District was told that a CPS investigation “was no big deal” if the family didn’t have anything to hide.
We believe this view misunderstands what a CPS investigation is and how it can impact a family.
When our member family in Arlington was reported to CPS, I immediately contacted the district and vigorously objected to this blatant violation of the parent’s fundamental right to educate their children at home. I also let the district know that we would defend our member family, and any others, who were threatened in this manner.
We were able to prevent any other families from being reported. And the family that was reported has since told us their CPS investigation has been closed and sealed as unfounded.
However, many other homeschool families continued to be harassed.
So on February 18, I found myself with 100 people who were addressing two Arlington Central School District officials about the difficulties the homeschool community had been experiencing.
Many homeschool parents spoke passionately and persuasively.
And while the meeting started out with the deputy superintendent striking a tense and defensive posture, by the end, real progress had been promised.
Bodnar stated that, as a family man of seven children, he would be a voice in support of the homeschool community in Arlington. He and Brown shared personal experiences with CPS in their families growing up. Both acknowledged that CPS reports were a “big deal” and that they should not be made for mere paperwork issues.
Brown assured all in attendance that, moving forward, no homeschool family would be reported to CPS because of “extra” requirements or homeschool paperwork issues. He also promised that Arlington would no longer require registration-type information from homeschool parents.
The officials fielded other suggestions and discussions about several issues from the homeschool community—discussions that included concerns over letters of substantial equivalency and the difficulties parents have had in acquiring these letters either in a timely manner or at all.
I was pleased with the way each parent and leader presented an accurate view of the homeschool regulations and what homeschool families’ relationship with Arlington should be. Those who didn’t speak expressed support and unity by their attendance.
Brown also said he was favorably impressed with those present and with the homeschool community in general.
We are hopeful that Arlington Central School District will no longer threaten and harass homeschool families. However, we will continue to work in Arlington to ensure that this promise continues and to take whatever steps are necessary to protect families’ rights to teach their children at home.