A school board in Florida is so concerned about losing enrollment, at least in part due to homeschooling, that it has hired a team of workers to check up on missing students. Home School Legal Defense Association is taking steps to make sure these workers don’t violate the rights of homeschool families.
The Madison County School Board, in a recent meeting, voted to hire five parent contact specialists who will be tasked with visiting families residing in the district. During the meeting homeschool families were mentioned, and several minutes were spent speculating just how these parents are educating their children and what they are using as teaching materials.
Officials suggested that the new team of parent contact specialists could help answer these questions by visiting homeschool families.
Raising the Alarm
Several homeschool parents were alarmed after reading about these discussions in their local newspaper and contacted HSLDA. I was able to read the article as well, and then watched an online video of the Madison County School Board meeting.
According to the discussion on homeschooling, about 100 students have been withdrawn to be educated by their parents in Madison County this school year. The county’s district curriculum coordinator expressed concerns that these parents were not signed up for any district program—or any other educational program.
School Board Chairman Bart Alford commented that while some homeschool families are doing a good job, “I’m willing to bet there are many on this homeschool list who have no curriculum.” Alford went on to say he suspected these homeschool families “are using stuff you buy at Learning Tree or Wal-Mart or Sam’s or Costco, and that’s not curriculum. That’s supplemental, that’s what you should be doing as enrichment.”
A Job to Do
When I looked at the job description for these parent contact specialists that was given to the school board, it included:
- Contacting parents of student who are not regularly attending school or actively participating in one of the district’s virtual programs.
- Contacting parents of students too young for kindergarten who are not actively participating in an approved PreK program.
- Educating parents about the laws regarding compulsory attendance for students.
On its face, the list seemed benign. However, because of the nature and tone of the discussion, it was apparent that we needed to reach out to the Madison County School Board.
I wrote a letter to the board chairman and the public school superintendent just before the February school board meeting to raise several concerns about the desire to conduct home visits of homeschool families.
Among other things, I pointed out that both parents who establish a home education program and local school officials must comply with state law. While homeschool parents are generally required to maintain a portfolio and file a copy of an evaluation every year, they do not have to provide a curriculum list or educational plan to local school officials for approval.
Homeschool parents who choose to be under a registered Florida private school, often called a cover or umbrella school, are only required to follow the requirements of their chosen school.
I also stated that sending these parent contact specialists to visit homeschool families and “encourage” them to enroll in district programs would be coercive and could even be seen as threatening to parents. Homeschool parents have the freedom to choose whether they want to participate in local school programs or not.
I did affirm the Madison County School Board’s responsibility to ensure that students enrolled in their public schools are required to attend in-person or hybrid instruction. However, I reminded the school board that they cannot intimidate homeschool parents into participating in district programs simply because they don’t agree with the choice these parents have made or because of concern about decreased funding due to students leaving the public school.
HSLDA will continue to work with local homeschool families to closely monitor the actions of the Madison County School Board and their new parent contact specialists. We will certainly oppose any attempts to conduct unnecessary home visits of any homeschool family!