A Gallup poll conducted in August shows that 10 percent of American parents—an increase from 5 percent in 2019—intend to homeschool their children this fall.
Our experience shows that, for the vast majority of these families, the process to start homeschooling will be straightforward and free of difficulties. Their initial interaction with officials will typically consist of notifying their local school district that they are beginning to homeschool.
But these are unusual times. Public school districts are still fine-tuning plans for how to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Many districts are facing a drastic drop in enrollment.
And as an unprecedented number of families switch to homeschooling, we are also witnessing a marked increase in officials making demands that are not supported by law.
Of course, just as we’ve been doing for nearly 40 years, Home School Legal Defense Association stands ready to assist our members who encounter these unnecessary impediments. And most of the time, after we explain what the law really says, officials quickly retract their demands.
Which frees parents to proceed with what matters to them most—keeping their children safe and learning.
Still, it would be helpful to review a few recurring situations and how to deal with them.
Withdrawing from Public School
Many families now embarking on their first adventure in homeschooling had previously enrolled their children in public school. This has prompted a surge in confusing directives about how to ensure these children are properly removed from the rolls.
The De Soto area Unified School District 232 in Kansas created a special form they were requiring parents to use for disenrolling their children. Officials added that parents who refused to use the form risked being reported for truancy.
When HSLDA attorney Scott Woodruff learned this was happening, he notified our members by email, assuring them that this requirement lacked all credibility.
Instead, he wrote, “[a] simple, courteous letter from parents explaining they are transferring their child . . . is sufficient.”
HSLDA President Mike Smith explained that in states such as Kansas and California, where homeschools technically operate as small private schools in the home, there can be a disconnect between various levels of education bureaucracy.
Most families in California, for example, file a private school affidavit with the state Department of Education to establish their homeschool. However, the state doesn’t necessarily share this information with local school districts, nor does the law require families to notify public school officials when they decide to begin homeschooling.
This can create problems for the families when the public schools notice unexplained absences and report the child for suspected truancy, triggering a visit from officials.
It’s good practice, therefore, for parents making the switch to homeschooling to let public school officials know not to expect their children back in class. Not only does it help avoid having a child being marked as absent, but it also documents that parents are making the effort to be deliberate and diligent.
After all, the goal is to enable parents—who know and love their children better than any bureaucrat ever could—to focus on crafting an education best suited to helping their students thrive.
The public school officials in several states are forgetting that homeschooling parents have the freedom to choose the curriculum and teaching methods that work best for their children.
HSLDA attorney Tj Schmidt said he’s recently helped members from Kentucky, New Mexico, Indiana, and Arizona who were asked to submit their curriculum for inspection by officials who lack the legal grounds to make such a demand.
A similar situation involving the school district in Waxahachie, Texas, prompted HSLDA attorney Darren Jones to share this quote from a landmark legal case: “It is not necessary for the parents to make a personal appearance with school officials, present curriculum for review, or comply with any other requirements in order to successfully withdraw their student.”
Requirements on this topic, of course, vary by state. New York law requires that parents submit an education plan including details such as syllabi and textbooks. Pennsylvania lists subjects that homeschools are required to teach.
For the most part, however, parents are given wide latitude for customizing their homeschool programs. HSLDA vigorously defends this practice because we believe the genius of homeschooling is how it liberates children from restrictive, one-size-fits all programs.
Homeschooling enriches the learning environment by freeing parents to share their values, encourage students to pursue special interests, and choose instructional tools best suited to each child’s preferred way of learning.
The Greater Good
Which brings us to another issue that keeps popping up when officials raise unlawful requirements—who is responsible for the welfare of children?
A family in Indiana received a letter from public school officials warning that, if the parents went ahead with plans to homeschool, they were required to give their children an education equivalent to that offered by the public schools. The letter added, “[a]ttendance officers have a legal duty to visit the homes of children not in school to determine if they are in need of books, clothing or parental care.”
Tj went on to explain that Indiana law does grant the state some oversight in these areas. But he said the letter misconstrues the law to imply that parents are permitted to care for and educate their children at the sufferance of local bureaucrats—which is most certainly not the case.
Though it is true that homeschoolers in Indiana are expected to provide their children with an education at least of the same quality as that offered by public schools, great leeway is given for how this is achieved.
Additionally, Tj remarked that this provision is not meant as blanket permission to snoop on homeschoolers.
“It’s not the duty of local school officials to go and determine if parents are delivering equivalent instruction,” he said. “If an agency had evidence that kids were not receiving an education, that would be reason to investigate.”
The same holds true for the claim that school attendance officers are empowered to check up on families at their homes. First, said Tj, an officer must have reason to believe that a child who is supposed to be attending public school is truant. And if an officer did visit and determine the children in the home had needs that were not being met, then he could refer the case to some other agency tasked with addressing those sorts of cases.
The fact remains that the people generally best suited to care for and educate children are their parents. HSLDA will continue to defend homeschooling families from overreaching officials, even as we strive to remove unreasonable restrictions that hinder parents from fulfilling their role as loving providers.
It’s not only the right thing to do—it’s also good for us all.