Jennifer Moye has homeschooled her kids in three states—each with its own education laws. Her husband, Matt, is an officer in the United States Air Force. So they understand the need to respect authority and abide by regulations.
So why are they challenging a mandate by their local public school district, a demand that Jennifer admits that, in some respects, “is so trivial”?
Because they believe it’s the right thing to do. Giving in to something she sees as unlawful, said Jennifer, could ultimately nullify the reasons they homeschool and undermine the specific choices that make the educational option work so well for their family.
“Somebody has to stand up and say—enough!” she said. “Stop pushing people around.”
A Question of Law
The Moyes asked Home School Legal Defense Association to represent them in an appeal to the Rome, New York, school board after the Individualized Home Instruction Plan (IHIP) they submitted for their oldest son, a 6th-grader, was rejected. The only reason officials refused to accept the plan was because it did not list resources for teaching about AIDS.
HSLDA contends that the regulation requiring AIDS education applies only to public and private school students—not homeschoolers.
Also, Jennifer said she wants to teach this topic at a time and in a way that is best for her children.
If the appeal process fails and the IHIP is still rejected after all legal remedies are exhausted, the family risks being accused of not complying with compulsory education laws.
As Jennifer explained in an interview, it would have been easy to amend the plan.
But there were broader issues at stake: for one thing, the mandate to teach AIDS comes on top of regulations that are already burdensome. To legally homeschool in New York, families must submit an annual notice of intent, IHIPs for each child being homeschooled, quarterly reports that document each student’s progress throughout the school year . . . and year-end student assessments.
This flood of documentation is reviewed and filed by officials at the local school superintendent’s office, which means that a single public employee’s interpretation of the law can add to the red tape.
Adding to the Burden
Which is what seems to have happened in Rome. Families who homeschool in the district—including some who have been doing it there for more than a decade—say a recent spate of rejected IHIPs traces back to when a new official took over processing their paperwork.
Jennifer is quick to point out that the official has always been kind and professional. She added: “I think she believes she’s just doing her job.”
Regardless of intent, HSLDA Staff Attorney Tj Schmidt said that the way Rome school district is treating homeschool families amounts to overreach.
“Officials are assuming their job is to subjectively review the home instruction program, rather than simply determine whether parents have submitted the information required in the IHIP,” he said. “In Rome, IHIPs are being rejected because the district wants families to provide more than a list of textbooks, claiming lack of familiarity with the content of the curriculum.”
Jennifer can attest to this. Her family started homeschooling in New York the fall of 2019. She submitted the required paperwork and didn’t encounter any problems. Then, after handing in her third-quarter reports for 2020–21, Jennifer heard from the district homeschool official, who requested photos of the table of contents for all the textbooks the family was using.
This year, Jennifer proactively submitted the additional information in each of her three children’s homeschool plans to avoid further trouble. Each IHIP was 12 pages long.
Then came the demand regarding AIDS instruction. At that point, she and her husband decided to fight.
“If they can ask for something that’s not legally required of me,” Jennifer said, “then what’s going to be next?”
Serious about Education
Jennifer went on to say that she and her husband thought seriously before deciding to challenge the AIDS education mandate. Likewise, their initial decision to homeschool was not an easy one.
When their oldest son reached kindergarten age, their inclination was to enroll him in a private school. But the more she considered it, said Jennifer, the more she felt the best thing would be to teach her son at home.
There were many reasons for this. Jennifer said she knew her husband’s military career meant they would move often, and homeschooling seemed a good way to promote emotional and educational stability despite their family’s peregrinations.
Jennifer and Matt agreed to try homeschooling for a year, but changed their perspective after seeing their first-born’s academic progress.
“He loves to learn,” said Jennifer. “He did so well; I always say he sort of spoiled us.”
Two more children came along in two years, but the Moyes stuck with what was working.
“Once we got into the groove, there was just no turning back,” Jennifer said of their homeschooling program. “It’s been beautiful to let them learn and grow at their own pace.”
Another important consideration in choosing homeschooling was that the Moyes wanted to ensure their children learned from a perspective steeped in their deeply held religious beliefs. Witnessing all her children make confessions of faith as Christians, said Jennifer, served to confirm that she’d made the right choice.
Not that they keep their kids isolated. The Moye children are active in Classical Conversations, participate in church, and play youth soccer.
“My kids experience life,” said Jennifer. “They’re not in a bubble.”
In fact, Jennifer added, she tries to use her kids’ experiences as a tool for teaching them in a timely and natural way. Which brings her to another reason for opposing the mandate to instruct her son about AIDS—an important and sensitive subject—at a time and in a way that might not be best for him.
“We can have that conversation when it’s appropriate,” she said. “We’re standing up for what we believe and what we’re convicted of.”