When a Pennsylvania homeschool family challenged a policy change at their local public high school—one that threatened to block access to certain college-related exams—their objection ended up benefitting more than just their own student.
The difficulty arose when Nina, who has homeschooled her children for their entire academic careers, contacted public school officials in mid-September, a full month before the high school planned to administer the PSAT/NMSQT®. Nina asked if she could sign up her homeschooled 11th-grade daughter to take the test.
The PSAT helps students prepare for the SAT®, which many colleges consider when evaluating applicants—but it is also the means of competing for the National Merit Scholarship as well as for other scholarship programs.
An official told Nina the school only ordered a certain number of exams, and that public school students were given priority. The official then advised Nina to call back in two weeks to see if any test slots remained available.
Being put off in this way struck her as unfair for several reasons, Nina explained.
“To say you can’t sign up for the PSAT is inconsistent with the law,” she said, noting that Pennsylvania statutes guarantee homeschoolers access to public school extracurricular activities. “It’s treating homeschoolers as not really being part of the district.”
Nina added that if her daughter missed out on the exam, “this also meant she couldn’t compete for the National Merit Scholarship.”
Different from past years
The possibility of exclusion was an unexpected surprise to Nina because it presented a marked difference from how helpful the district had been in past years when she asked to register her sons for AP® exams. In total, said Nina, her two sons took seven AP exams at the local public high school. Based on their scores, the college her sons enrolled in granted them credit for Latin, calculus, computer science, and statistics.
“So AP exams are a big deal,” she added.
But like they had done with the PSAT, this year, officials at the local school district told Nina that the policy had changed. When she tried to sign her daughter up for AP exams, she was told that students were no longer automatically allowed to take whatever AP exam they requested. Instead, each request had to be approved by the administration.
At that point, “I called HSLDA,” said Nina.
Resolving a misunderstanding
HSLDA Senior Counsel Scott Woodruff emailed a letter to the school district. He explained that Pennsylvania law grants homeschoolers access to certain activities at public schools, and that excluding them could be viewed as discrimination.
An hour after hearing from HSLDA’s attorney, school officials contacted Nina to say her daughter was welcome to register for the PSAT, which she did the next day.
Nina also noted that after receiving Scott’s letter, officials “were very friendly and helpful.” This friendliness extended to approving Nina’s daughter for AP exams as well.
Officials insisted that the testing access issue arose from a misunderstanding. Nina’s husband Forest said he believes them.
“The law is so complicated that you need a lawyer to interpret it,” he said. “I don't think they had guidance from their attorney, and they accepted the interpretation provided by HSLDA."
We all benefit
Nina said she appreciated HSLDA’s help in resolving the situation, adding that at least one other family benefitted from Scott Woodruff’s intervention: while waiting at the high school in mid-October when her daughter was taking the PSAT, Nina encountered another homeschool parent she knows. The other mom said she was similarly rebuffed by public school officials when she asked about signing up her daughter for the PSAT in August.
That changed after Scott sent his letter. Nina acknowledged that fact in a note of thanks to our attorney.
“When she called back later in September, the secretary was very welcoming and helpful, and told her to come right down and register,” Nina wrote. “I told her about what happened to me, and about calling HSLDA, and about you sending the letter. So, it seems you helped her as well, and I don't know how many others!”
Learn more about preparing your homeschooled teen for the PSAT, SAT, ACT, CLT, AP, and other tests during the high school years on our website.
SAT® and AP® are trademarks registered by the College Board, and PSAT/NMSQT® is a trademark registered by the College Board and the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, which were not involved in the production of, and do not endorse, this product.