Illinois homeschool law is simple (read here for a summary). But as homeschooling surges in Illinois, we are seeing an increase in public school officials spreading errors about how to comply with the law.
It’s important that families not endure these errors in silence. As Frederick Douglass said:
“Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them.”
Here are some examples we are seeing around the state. The “response” entries are addressed to what I might call a typical homeschool family, and will not be suitable for everyone.
1. Official says: “You must register your homeschool program.”
Response: In Illinois you never need to “register” your homeschool program or your homeschool student with anyone. Homeschool families feel strongly about protecting this freedom; 4,500 homeschool parents came to Springfield to oppose the last legislative attempt to impose a registration requirement. Here’s why we oppose adding registration or any other new requirement. Another thing to note about how the home education law works—when dealing with officials, you should always refer to your program as a “private school,” not as a “homeschool.”
2. Official says: “You need to file a ‘statement of assurance’ telling us how you will teach your kids.”
Response: You never need to do this.
3. Official says: “Parents should notify their local school of their intention to homeschool.”
Response: There is no such law. No notice is necessary. However, if you are withdrawing a child from public school, you should definitely write and explain to the child’s former principal that you are transferring the child to a private school of which you are the principal. You should also request that a copy of your child’s school records be transferred to you, as the principal of the child’s new private school.
4. Official says: “Here is the link to your regional office of education to get signed up for homeschooling.”
Response: There is no such thing as “signing up for homeschooling.”
5. Official says: “We can investigate your homeschool if your instruction does not match public school standards.”
Response: That’s clearly wrong. The correct standard was explained by the Illinois Supreme Court. One way to summarize the court’s ruling is that parents are responsible for delivering a proper, adequate, good faith education in the required subjects in a way designed to give the child educational advantages comparable to those of a public school education.
6. Official says: “You have the burden of proving that your homeschool satisfies the law.”
Response: This is a muddled paraphrase of an Illinois Supreme Court statement. Here’s the truth. If an official has solid evidence (i.e., “probable cause”) that you have violated the Illinois compulsory school attendance law, and if the prosecutor then files criminal charges against you, it will be your job to show that your homeschool program is legit and complies with Illinois law at your subsequent “day in court.” The likelihood that any one family will be taken to court is extremely small. But everyone should take some time to understand the law—and review it often. And everyone should keep the records they would need to show they are in compliance (see 5 above).
7. Official says: “We can come to your house to see if you are in compliance.”
Response: If an official comes to your door, you need help now, while he is standing on your doorstep, not tomorrow! If you are a member of HSLDA, call us immediately. Don’t assume your situation is the same as others you may have heard about. There’s a lot at stake for your family when this happens.
8. Official says: “We need to see your curriculum so we can approve it.”
Response: There are unusual situations when it makes sense to show your homeschool materials to an official so he knows that you are teaching all the required subjects. But you don’t need anyone’s approval of your curriculum before you start to homeschool your kids.
9. Official says: “We will be monitoring your homeschool program.”
Response: Illinois law does not give any official the authority to monitor a homeschool program.
10. Official says: “Cooperate with us or we will refer you for a child abuse investigation.”
Response: Here is an Illinois law you can keep handy for cases like this: “A child shall not be considered neglected or abused solely because the child is not attending school in accordance with the requirements of Article 26 of the School Code, as amended.” This means that if the only thing they are unhappy about is your decision to homeschool, no official has any authority to investigate you for child abuse or neglect.
If you feel like an official is trying to scare you, HSLDA can help. We don’t want anyone to be scared away from homeschooling because of threats! This response from the Illinois Family Institute, and this response from the Ad Hoc Committee for Illinois Home Education Legal and Legislative matters may also be helpful to you.
One Illinois support group leader recently told me:
“The public school system—from the lunch ladies, to the teachers and office staff, as well as superintendent’s offices—widely spread bad advice and false requirements. This is so prevalent that we recommend not even looking through the public school websites for information. Instead, go to trusted sites like hslda.org, iche.org, and trusted Facebook pages including ICHE Discussion Group and Illinois Homeschooling.”
In all the situations above, HSLDA can help our member families respond to the official. The best way to defend homeschool freedom in Illinois right now is for everyone—including the brand new folks—to have a firm grasp of the truth, and communicate it with unfailing kindness and grace.