“Hello? Child Protective Services is in my living room—what should I do?” The voice on the other end of the line sounded shaken, but calm.
It was Tanya Acevedo, a brand-new homeschooling mom in the heart of New York City. And it was 7:00 at night.
Concerned for her son’s safety and education, Tanya had recently withdrawn him from public school to begin homeschooling. She had done everything right—filing paperwork, carefully following all the rules of New York City. She sought the counsel and support of her pastor and his wife, who were also experienced homeschooling parents.
So you can imagine Tanya’s shock when a Child Protective Services (CPS) investigator came to her apartment because of a report of “educational neglect.” Stunned, Tanya immediately called her pastor and asked him to come over. When he arrived, they called me on HSLDA’s after-hours hotline.
“[The investigator] says that my son’s school reported me for too many absences,” Tanya told me. “But I withdrew him over a month ago to homeschool.”
No, you don't need to look in the refrigerator
Even in our Internet Age, rather than making homeschooling paperwork available online or mailing it to the home, NYC requires parents to trudge down to the Central Office of Home Schooling on Seventh Avenue to pick it up.
I asked Tanya if she had sent her notice of intent to the superintendent when she withdrew her son.
“Certified mail,” she responded. “And I sent a copy to the school, also certified.”
Since she was in the middle of moving to another apartment, Tanya didn’t have her papers immediately available to show the investigator, but she said she could have them by the next day. The investigator confirmed that there were no safety concerns; the only issue was that the school had been marking Tanya’s son absent for over a month.
By now, Tanya had put me on the phone with the CPS investigator.
Explaining her perceived obligations, the investigator insisted that she interview the child in private and inspect the apartment.
“I think we can clear this all up tomorrow,” I proposed, “by having Tanya provide you with her proof that she is lawfully homeschooling.”
After explaining to me the urgent need to look inside Tanya’s refrigerator—because that’s what they always do when a child has been absent from school—the investigator thought it might be okay to wait until the next day. She called her supervisor, confirmed that refrigerator-snooping could be postponed, and left after sternly instructing Tanya to produce documents and child the next day at her office.
The Big, Inefficient Apple
The next morning, I asked Tj Schmidt, HSLDA’s contact attorney for New York, to help Tanya.
Because of the state’s antiquated, arcane homeschooling regulations, Tj spends much of his time sorting out paperwork issues between homeschooling families and school districts.
But as I learned that Thursday morning, the problems in the rest of New York state don’t hold a candle to the way New York City treats homeschooling families.
- First, rather than letting homeschooling families deal with their own school districts (as set out in the regulations), New York City has consolidated all of the administrative functions relating to homeschooling for all the school districts in all five boroughs in one central office on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan.
- Second, it underfunds and undermans that office, which routinely leads to delays, lost paperwork, and a high level of underperformance and dissatisfaction.
- Finally, NYC’s central homeschooling office controls the attendance database for all schools in the entire city inasmuch as the data relates to homeschooling.
So even though Tanya notified both the central office and the school before she began homeschooling, the school could not flip the switch in the attendance database to turn off her son’s “absences.”
And the central office, always woefully behind, had not gotten around to it yet.
The nightmare continues
Even though the school knew that Tanya had filed a notice of intent to homeschool, it reported her to CPS for “educational neglect” because its policy required it to do so after so many “absences” had accrued.
After many phone calls, another visit from the CPS investigator, considerable inconvenience, and much unnecessary anxiety for Tanya and her son, Tj persuaded the case worker to close the investigation.
All of this could have been avoided if the New York City bureaucracy would have followed its own rules. And that’s to say nothing of the complete waste of the investigator’s time, which could have been much better spent helping children truly in need.
We've had enough
After Tanya’s situation was resolved, I asked other NYC homeschooling families for their stories. What I found appalled me.
Family after family had found themselves in legal limbo because the central office simply could not or would not follow the timelines in the regulation. More than one homeschooling family told me they had been turned over to CPS because of the office’s delayed handling of the homeschooling paperwork.
The injustice against homeschooling families in New York City was intolerable. On December 5, HSLDA filed a civil rights lawsuit against New York City public schools over their systematic mistreatment of homeschooling families. We asked for money damages and for a court to order the New York City bureaucracy to simply follow New York’s homeschooling regulation.
Shortly after that suit was filed, the city reached out to HSLDA in an effort to resolve these issues. Since then, we’ve had several fruitful conversations with the city, and are hopeful that this progress will continue. In early August, HSLDA attorneys Tj Schmidt and Peter Kamakawiwoole will travel to the Big Apple to meet with attorneys and officials from the New York City’s central office of homeschooling. We greatly covet your prayers as these discussions continue.