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Home Education Magazine

January-February 1999 - Articles

So What About That Free Lunch?

How Can We Trust the State

Peggy Daly-Masternak

In 1989, the State of Ohio passed its homeschooling regulations. One might think that after nine years, we would no longer be needful of any discussion concerning the requirements that the state demands of the local schools when it comes to compliance with these regulations. Pathetically, after nine years of opportunity to fully comply, we still find it necessary to monitor our local city school district and, at least once per year, reminded them of their obligations. This year has certainly been no exception. We also have a much more wretched situation brewing in at least one neighboring suburb.

In as much as we continue to encounter a consistently-demonstrated lack of compliance by the schools, I take tremendous exception to the "great chance" proffered in any discussion of sharing school services or using alternative public school programs. Right to the point: If, after nine years, we cannot count on school districts to be upstanding and above-board in their administration of clearly-defined homeschooling regulations, I certainly doubt that we can count on them for greater respect in murky areas not specifically defined by those regulations.

And, Lord help us if we enter the arena of legislating our rights to school services or preventing our loss of rights to homeschool. Who gets to decide what is best for homeschoolers? Do you trust elected officials? Is it an election year? Do you trust other homeschoolers with a different perspective on homeschooling than yours? Do you trust the school board associations? Teachers' unions? State-appointed educational advisory committees? Social service agencies? State athletic associations? Can you be at your state capitol during every step of the process, listening to the debate? In both House and Senate committees' hearings? How much influence do you have with your governor? Can you commit the time, energy and money it takes to organize your state's homeschooling community, in all its glorious diversity, should you disagree with the legislation being proposed?

To be certain, lack of regard for homeschoolers rights is not specific to northwest Ohio, but has the potential to exist at every school district in the country. There are, after all, no guarantees of: honorable treatment; consistent application when superintendents are replaced; efforts to understand homeschooling in all its many paths; or agendas that best serve homeschoolers without bureaucratic, self-serving motives. Our situations in this corner of Ohio should serve as ample example of why we are no where near the needed relationships with our schools in order to "get what we want or are owed" and to preserve the hard-won freedoms to educate without unwarranted state interference.

Compare the Ohio regulations...

Every year, we must notify our local superintendent of our intent to homeschool, requesting an excuse from compulsory attendance for that year. We must agree to complete 900 hours, covering a list of typical school subjects. We must provide a list of materials we plan on using and an explanation of how they will be used. This list and explanation are for informational purposes only, not to afford an opportunity for "acceptance" or "permission." The basic requirement for the parent is at least a high school diploma, and alternatives can arranged in the absence of that credential.

In subsequent years, we submit this same notification along with an assessment, satisfied by one of three options: either standardized test scores, portfolio assessment by a certified teacher, or a mutually-agreed-upon option by the superintendent and parent. Most homeschoolers choose the first or second options. Most in my acquaintance chose only the second option, even if they privately administer standardized tests to their children.

...to the practices of northwest Ohio schools:

This year, as in most years past, the Toledo Public Schools has lacked compliance with the regulations. Sometimes it was in such "small" areas as failing to note that your telephone number is optional (per the regulations) or noting that curriculum information and materials is "for informational purposes only." Other times, the regulations were reworded to state that "parent" was synonymous with "teacher" leaving much ambiguity when it came to our relationship to other state-mandated regulations and law.

Earlier this year, with some of these same flaws repeated yet again in unnecessary communication with all homeschoolers, TPS escalated the demands with their "requirement" for grade-level information and other non-mandatory information. I wrote to the school, detailing their non-compliance and requesting that, once and for all, they achieve complete compliance with the regulations they are bound to follow. Their reply?

"The form and the procedures followed in the management of our responsibilities in the home schooling process are in keeping with the spirit of the laws of the State of Ohio. Our procedures permit us to carry out our tasks in an efficient and organized manner."

Continued correspondence has resulted in a statement by the school official that full compliance will be achieved, appropriate forms for notification will be supplied from here on out, and that all homeschoolers will be notified of these intentions. I'm still waiting for mine.

There is a school district, just south of Toledo, that apparently believes that keeping with the spirit of the law must mean altering almost every aspect of the regulations, providing for the most blatant abuse of power I have seen in Ohio homeschooling in years. Merely a few years ago, Perrysburg Schools responded to their homeschoolers with an excuse from compulsory attendance that encouraged parents in exercising their right to homeschool, complimenting them as being akin to model parents, who must possess a deep concern for their children's well being. Congratulations was basically the tone.

Fast forward to 1998. The latest "requirements" for Perrysburg are beyond belief. Remembering the regulations of the State of Ohio, listen to some of the more outrageous mandates:

Demonstrated mastery of a course of study taught at home.

For each course of study, submission of a portfolio, examples of tests and test scores, list of resources, standardized test scores, and number of hours devoted to each course of study. All submitted to the school.

Specific requirements that are also non-compliant with the regulations regarding re-enrollment in the school, including evaluation by a homeschool review team made up of a principal, head counselor, and/or others selected by the superintendent. Also, homeschool students can only re-enroll at the beginning of a semester, with four-weeks advance notice, completely discriminating against homeschoolers. Public school transfer students are certainly enrolled at will.

Even with nine years of vigilance, public testimony and correspondence, we are still not in a position to rely on fair, lawful or reasonable treatment with our schools. Existing regulations are bent, twisted and snapped in an attempt to ensnare homeschoolers due to denial, fear, misunderstanding, resentment or power (read money) opportunities. Why would we be so gullible and set sail in the uncharted waters of homeschoolers' "participation in school with no strings attached"?

Ohio is considered The "less-regulated" states. What potential exists for homeschoolers in states where rights have already been supplanted? Certainly, "legislating our rights" to weight the balance in our favor has backfired in many states, and not just in homeschooling issues. Bureaucracy breeds bureaucracy-just ask anyone who pushes the paper at a state or federal agency.

Another example from Toledo

Several years ago, the Toledo Public Schools established the International Studies Center to provide instruction in various foreign languages. The ISC is completely removed from the facilities of a school building, housed on the second floor of a downtown office building. They provide weekday classes for Toledo Public School enrolled students, as well as Saturday and evening classes for a fee to anyone from the Northwest Ohio area, with all age groups welcome.

Within the last three years, the ISC began offering weekday classes to homeschoolers. Present your excuse from compulsory attendance and receive a fee waiver for these classes. How can it be that this large, well-equipped facility can "afford" to offer "free" classes for homeschoolers? We have recently learned that the ISC sends the excuses from compulsory attendance to the state, apparently including these excused students in the mandatory October head count for the purposes of receiving state funding. Is it mere coincidence that the excuse from compulsory attendance must be received by September 30?

A homeschooling member of the State Board of Education makes some very valid points on this issue in questions to the State Superintendent. It appears that ISC is enrolling students that have been excused from the compulsory attendance law and generating state funding as a result of said enrollment. However, ISC is not informing parents that student participation in ISC classes constitutes re-enrollment in the system from which their children were excused.

She then asks some pointed questions: Can students lawfully be "enrolled" in the public school system without the expressed permission of their parents? If a student is "enrolled" what are the consequences of this student not attending? Is the student truant? What if s/he withdraws? And are these students included in the state's Education Information Management System (EMIS)?

There are no regulations covering these circumstances. Money is involved to the benefit of the school. Tracking is certainly involved when your name is introduced into the EMIS. How long can this situation allow for self-determination by homeschoolers without some regulatory "accountability to the taxpayers?"

There is a slippery slope.

With little strain, we can all think of many examples where the state is attempting to solve the problems presented by a few with far-reaching blanket laws to cover a worst case scenario. Think curfews. Think proficiency tests. Think greater restrictions on parents rights.

My dear friends in homeschooling, there is no free lunch. If one currently exists, it won't last forever. The piper always gets paid. In the context of what could have been, I have had the luxury of moderate homeschooling regulation for my eight years as an official homeschooler. Thank you to those who came before me. Here's hoping that my actions, choices and battles, and those of my fellow homeschoolers, allow us to earn the same sincere gratitude from those who come beyond.

1999, Peggy Daly-Masternak

....(articles list) | columns list)....

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