Through no fault of their own, several homeschool families in New York came close to breaking the law last week. Why? Because of how public school officials chose to interpret and implement regulations.
June 30 marked the deadline for homeschool parents in the Empire State to submit required year-end assessments of their students. In Waterford-Halfmoon Union Free School District, Yonkers City School District, and Rome City School District, officials refused to let any homeschool parents evaluate their own children—an option for which the state law allows.
Many of these parents had to find last-minute alternatives for demonstrating how their children had progressed during the most recent school year.
Faith in Experts
On behalf of these families, HSLDA Staff Attorney Tj Schmidt contacted the districts’ legal representatives. He said one attorney argued that parents should not be permitted to evaluate their own children because they are inherently biased.
Schmidt replied by asking officials to stop making policy based on evidence-free assumptions and instead to look at what the law actually says.
Depending on the assessment that is to be conducted, statutes allow homeschool parents to select a New York certified teacher, a home peer group review panel, or another “qualified” person to conduct the assessment.
Passing the Test
Home School Legal Defense Association contends that parents demonstrate themselves as being qualified by complying with New York’s complex homeschool requirements, which include submitting a notice of intent, an individualized home instruction plan, and quarterly reports.
Furthermore, many of the parents we advocated for hold college diplomas and other credentials that, according to Schmidt, while not required, only adds to their qualifications. One father in the group is even a certified teacher with a master’s degree.
Schmidt also referred each school district to questions-and-answers posted by the New York State Education Department, which allows parents to conduct any of the annual assessment options themselves.
Though it’s true that a parent must choose the assessment administrator with the consent of the local public school district, Schmidt said, “there is nothing under state law that would prohibit them from conducting these assessments simply because they are the parent.”
Extra Burden on Families
One mom in the Waterford-Halfmoon district described how her family was forced to rush to complete the year-end assessments after their request to evaluate their children themselves was denied.
She and her husband have been homeschooling their two older sons for about five years, although this is the first year they’ve homeschooled in New York.
Despite being new to the state’s stringent homeschool paperwork requirements, the mom said she has been diligent in following the regulations.
“There’s been complete transparency,” she said. “I’ve been complying with everything. I didn’t do anything that would cause the district to have concerns.”
“I assumed there was an option for me to do it myself, seeing that I’ve done all the quarterly reports myself,” she said.
Nevertheless, her request to assess her children was denied, though officials never fully explained why.
Putting Kids First
That was about two months ago. Six weeks later—with the deadline approaching and no sign that officials were willing to budge—the mom decided she needed a different plan.
She asked a neighbor who is a certified teacher to evaluate a portfolio of her boys’ schoolwork. They got the packet in the mail on June 29—with one day to spare.
“It did put a little bit of a burden on me,” the mom said. “I don’t see why there has to be such heavy oversight by the district.”
“Homeschooling has a convincing record of producing successful students,” he said. “Based on this, and what research tells us about why families choose homeschooling, the assumption officials should be making is that homeschool parents can successfully educate their children at home and only want what’s best for their kids. They certainly aren’t trying to cheat the system.”