Like many homeschool families in New York, the Bristow family (not their real name) submitted their notice of intent at the beginning of the 2020–21 school year because they had decided to homeschool their son. They also submitted their individualized home instruction plan (IHIP) before the end of July, earlier than required.
A few weeks later the family received an email from the Tompkins-Seneca-Tioga Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (TST BOCES), kicking off months of bureaucratic headaches.
The TST BOCES official stated that the Bristows’ IHIP was deficient because it did not specifically state they would be providing education on AIDS, patriotism and citizenship, bicycle safety, fire and arson prevention, and drug/alcohol/tobacco abuse. As HSLDA members, the Bristows immediately contacted us for help.
We reviewed their IHIP and quickly realized the family had provided a list of the syllabi, curriculum materials, textbooks, and plans of instruction for all of the required subjects in New York. While homeschooling parents are required to provide this information to their local school district, this family sent the packet to the TST BOCES, which is contracted to manage and oversee all homeschool paperwork for their district.
With the intent of reviewing the IHIP with TST BOCES officials, we gave them a call. We pointed out that the Bristows had included everything they were required to include in the IHIP.
TST BOCES officials nevertheless wanted the family to provide detailed information about each specific subject—more like a plan of instruction than a list of the textbooks.
We reminded TST BOCES that New York law allows parents to determine exactly how their child will be educated and what materials they will use.
While homeschool parents in New York are required to provide instruction every year in the more extraneous subjects, a parent does not need to have a separate course on each. These subjects can instead be incorporated into other subjects such as social studies or health. Which is exactly what the Bristows had intended on doing.
As for AIDS education, though it is required to be taught in public schools, it is not specifically required in a homeschool program under New York law.
After this conversation with officials, the family and I thought the issue was resolved.
Here We Go Again
However, about two months later, in late November, the Bristows received a letter stating that their IHIP was deficient and not in compliance with New York law.
In response, I wrote a letter to the attorney for TST BOCES explaining the situation and that the family had complied with all requirements of New York law. After reviewing everything, the attorney assured us that the letter would be forwarded to TST BOCES and they would follow up if there was anything else amiss.
In January, the Bristows received another letter from TST BOCES demanding the same information for the IHIP. After corresponding once again with their attorney, we were told the Bristows could disregard the letter and that everything was resolved.
However, when the Bristows received a third letter in March, they were understandably frustrated and confused.
A Serious Matter
I decided that we needed to lay out the entire situation again to the attorney and point out that this was now harassment. I quoted directly from the Bristows’ IHIP, indicating all the subjects that they would be covering. The family had even listed the specific New York Education Law sections that cover the more peripheral subjects like fire and arson prevention and drug/alcohol/tobacco abuse.
I reminded the attorney that if a parent stated that they would be covering everything required in a specific section of the law there was no reason for them to list each specific subject, especially when it came to these extraneous subjects. I demanded that TST BOCES send the Bristows’ confirmation that their IHIP was in compliance.
Approximately eight months after they originally submitted their IHIP, and seven months late, TST BOCES finally sent the Bristows confirmation that their IHIP was “approved.” After letting us know of this communication, Mrs. Bristow said, “Thank you for your encouragement and expertise. We couldn’t have done it without you.”
Very few situations take this long. Most school districts see reason and decide to follow the law much sooner. However, we are committed to protecting the rights of families to educate their children at home. We will stick with that mission, no matter how long it takes!