On November 10, I had the privilege of traveling to Oneida County, New York to help represent a member family before the Rome City School Board. The family was appealing the rejection of the individualized home instruction plan (IHIP) for their oldest son, who is in the 6th grade. The only reason Rome City School District officials rejected the IHIP was because it did not cover AIDS instruction.
Earlier this fall, after the family had received a letter requesting more information about AIDS instruction for their oldest son, I communicated with the district’s attorney on their behalf.
I pointed out that AIDS instruction is not required in Section 100.10 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education. I attempted to point out that the regulation the district was relying upon to support its demand, Section 135.3, only applies to public and private schools. Unfortunately, because the New York State Education Department, in the Home Instruction Questions and Answers, states that homeschool families must provide AIDS instruction, the attorney was not willing to examine what the law actually requires.
Rome City School District school officials then rejected this homeschooled 6th-grader’s IHIP.
Over the past two school years (2020–21 and 2021–22), Rome City School District has rejected many IHIPs. A couple of the families I have spoken to, who are very concerned about this unwarranted obstacle to homeschooling, have lived in the district for more than a decade. Many thought that they had a great relationship with the district and the official who processes homeschool paperwork.
But with a new staff person in the homeschool contact position, more and more IHIPs were rejected.
We often see this when school officials are new to homeschooling. Issues often develop when these school officials assume their job is to subjectively review the home instruction program, rather than simply determine whether parents have submitted the information required in the IHIP for the required subjects.
In Rome, we found that IHIPs were being rejected because the district wanted families to provide more than a list of textbooks, claiming lack of familiarity with the content of the textbooks. Other IHIPs were rejected because the district was focusing on a lack of detail for required health education such as drug and alcohol misuse and abuse, traffic and bicycle safety, fire and arson prevention, or the claim that AIDS instruction must be covered.
At the school board meeting, I was joined by a number of local homeschool families. We filled the school board meeting room to capacity. Several local HomeschoolNewYork-LEAH chapter leaders also attended. LEAH representative Marty Reed came to support the family at a rally before the meeting.
“Seeing so many families show up at the hearing was so encouraging,” the 6th-grader's mom told me afterward. “Just to know we are not alone and are part of this amazing homeschool community was huge! They spoke with respect, conviction, and most importantly, they spoke from a genuine place of love.”
While the actual hearing of the appeal was in a closed-door executive session, local homeschool families were able to be present and speak at the public portion of the regular school board meeting. Several parents spoke with passionate respect about their experiences of living and homeschooling in the Rome community for many years. Two of the parents who spoke had been homeschooling in the district for 10 and 15 years, respectively.
During the actual appeal, one of our local New York attorneys, Sean Eccles, was able to present our case before the school board. The essence of our argument was that Section 100.10 lists the required subjects for homeschool parents, and AIDS instruction is not mentioned there. Sean also pointed out that the regulation both the district and New York State Education Department mentions in the Home Instruction Questions and Answers only applies to public and private schools.
The member family we are representing also spoke about their desire to follow New York law. They mentioned that—as a military family—they have had to relocate several times, and that after each move, they have diligently researched the laws using the resources and information that HSLDA provides for each state. Our members respectfully requested that the school board acknowledge their decision to educate their son as they see fit, in accordance with New York law.
We trust that the Rome City School Board will make the right decision. However, we are committed to assisting this family, and any other family whose rights are curtailed, so they can determine what, when, and exactly how they will educate their children at home.
We appreciate your continued support as we work together on behalf of homeschooling families across New York, and the country.