Note: This article was originally published June 5, 2018. We are highlighting it now because it shows how public school officials sometimes invent requirements that are not supported by state law. In this case, the false demands dealt with who is qualified to conduct year-end student evaluations.

In the wake of negative media coverage targeting homeschooling families and a well-meaning (but somewhat confusing) message from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, school district superintendents across Pennsylvania are devoting more time to investigating homeschool legal compliance.

Homeschooling parents in Pittsburgh recently contacted Home School Legal Defense Association because their school district informed them that the evaluator they had been using for years was no longer qualified. It just so happened that this change occurred in conjunction with a staff change at the school district.

The family received a notice in mid-December explaining that beginning with the 2017–2018 school year, the district would be enforcing the statutory requirement that evaluators have teaching experience at the grade level at which they evaluate student progress.

Confusing requirements

No problem there. The family was utilizing an experienced evaluator who met the statutory qualifications—which was why they were confused when the assistant superintendent told them their program was not in compliance with the law. According to the assistant superintendent, this was because their evaluator did not have the requisite experience teaching in a public school.

This additional requirement is not, however, in the statute. It also revives a restrictive view of homeschooling that HSLDA fought to overturn years ago, when some states only allowed certified teachers to instruct their children at home.

To make matters more confusing, this evaluator is a certified teacher who has been serving homeschooling students and families for over 25 years, providing evaluations in 21 different school districts. She has experience teaching in a private school at the elementary level and six years of experience homeschooling her own children at the secondary level.

I wrote the school district’s lawyer explaining that the evaluator was qualified according to Pennsylvania law, but the lawyer insisted that the information provided by the assistant superintendent was “consistent with the law, regulation and Pennsylvania Department of Education guidance governing home education.”

And so it looked like we might have been headed for a standoff.

Public school experience not needed

Until a closer review of the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s guidance revealed that its position was in line with ours: The statute requires certain teaching experience, but there is no requirement that this experience be acquired while teaching in a public school. I pointed this out in my reply to the district’s lawyer, and recently the family was notified that the district now recognizes the evaluator as being sufficiently qualified according to state law.

Parents in Pennsylvania are used to dealing with red tape (Pennsylvania’s list of requirements for homeschooling is one of the longest in the country), but they are also adept at identifying arbitrary requirements created by school officials.

Because this family was willing to stand up to the school district, many homeschooling families will benefit from this evaluator’s services.

HSLDA is grateful for the many families who partner with HSLDA, which enables families to receive the support they need at an affordable cost.