Can local officials add requirements to homeschool law?
This is a question we addressed yet again after a Pennsylvania school district tried to make homeschool families provide proof of residency.
This summer, the Harbor Creek school district sent a letter to homeschool families announcing a new policy: “New this school year we are verifying residency for families. All families need to prove their residency at enrollment, we have not done this with our homeschooled students in the past but are implementing it this year…”. [sic]
The letter said that homeschool families must submit a tax bill, driver’s license, and some other type of bill showing their address to corroborate their residence.
On Whose Authority?
After a vigilant HSLDA member brought this to our attention, I wrote a letter to the school district explaining that they have no authority to demand that homeschool families prove where they live. I asked them to send a letter of correction.
Almost a month later, the school district’s attorney responded by quoting a statement located on the homeschool section of the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) webpage. It said: “…[T]he school district may reasonably ask for proof of residency since the affidavit or unsworn declaration is to be presented to the superintendent of the district of residence.”
The attorney said she would advise the school district to identify homeschool families who have never submitted any proof of residency and seek proof from them.
What the Law Says
I promptly sent a reply explaining that in crafting the homeschool statute, the Pennsylvania legislature decided (in effect) to accept the parental signature on the affidavit or unsworn declaration as sufficient corroboration in and of itself for the residence of the student. (Parents must submit an affidavit every year to notify their local public school superintendent of their intent to homeschool.)
I pointed out that the legislature has not given the PDE authority to interpret the homeschool statute. Finally, I told the attorney about our recent victory in the Virginia Supreme Court over a Virginia school district that tried to place its own idiosyncratic proof of residence demand on a homeschool family.
After reading this letter, the attorney replied and said the school district would no longer seek proof of residency. The school district followed up and sent a letter of correction to homeschool families withdrawing the request and offering apologies. We appreciate the district’s willingness to reconsider.
This is the kind of quick, early intervention that HSLDA often gets involved in. Our aim is to prevent issues from snowballing into big problems for homeschool families.