Home Education Magazine
September-October 1999 - Columns
Doing the Minimum to Comply With Homeschooling Laws and Other Good Ideas - Larry and Susan Kaseman
September. Back to school. A time when new homeschoolers decide how they will comply with state homeschooling laws and regulations, and experienced homeschoolers have the opportunity to simplify the ways they are complying. A good time to consider some basic principles and steps needed to maintain our homeschooling freedoms. This column will discuss:
* Doing only the minimum that is required to comply with homeschooling laws.
B>* Refusing to comply with requests or demands from officials that exceed their legal authority.
* Not participating in public school programs in ways that threaten our homeschooling freedoms.
* Supporting homeschooling publications and organizations that understand these principles and have helped homeschoolers live by them.
Minimum Compliance with State Law
The most effective ways we can maintain our homeschooling freedoms is by not doing more than the minimum required by state law. If we voluntarily do more than required, we set precedents for increased regulation of homeschooling and undermine our right to homeschool according to our principles and beliefs.
To do the minimum, we need to be familiar with the text of our state's homeschooling law (if one exists-some states simply treat homeschools as they do other private schools). Copies are available through homeschooling groups, from state legislators, and at libraries. Even more important is figuring out for ourselves what the law really means and how it should be obeyed. It may take effort to convince ourselves that we can and should do this. We're expected to turn to "experts," especially in specialized areas such as legal matters and education. However, when it comes to homeschooling, and especially our own families, we are the ones who are in the best position to make decisions and assessments. We know our children well. We know what our family's goals are. We can decide what's best given our family's unique strengths and circumstances. We also have the strongest motivation to interpret laws and regulations in reasonable ways, since we are the ones who have to live under them.
It is usually a big help to check with other homeschoolers to find out how they interpret the law, how they are complying with it, and what they know about how it is enforced. (Some laws are seldom enforced.)
It may at times be tempting to do more than the minimum, for reasons such as:
* We may want approval and recognition for our homeschooling, especially when we are having doubts ourselves-and what homeschooling parent doesn't have times of doubt? Our society regards school officials as the authorities on learning, even though people who attend conventional schools learn much of what is most important outside school, including how to talk, how to walk, how to cook, how to parent, how to homeschool, how to understand the way our government really operates, etc. We might think it would be a feather in our caps if school officials approved our homeschool, if we could tell them enough that they would say, "Oh, now I understand how homeschooling works. You're right-it's really a great way to educate children."
* We may think that we will be more secure and less likely to be challenged by public officials or get into trouble if we have done more than the minimum.
* We may want to educate school officials about homeschooling because we realize we could show them some very important things about how children learn and how adults can help them.
However, doing more than the minimum the law requires simply does not work. In the first place, except in rare cases when school officials are unusually open-minded, we are very unlikely to convince them that homeschooling is a good idea or help them learn from our experience. Many officials' careers, livelihood, and very lives are inextricably interwoven with the conventional school system. The more material we submit, the more they may demand. They may say, "I have your curriculum for math. Now how do you teach art, music, physical education....?" Or "The way you are teaching art does not conform to our standards."
The second reason doing more than the minimum does not work is that it sets precedents that can easily cause problems for us and other homeschoolers. We may soon hear school officials say, "Last year you sent us a list of all the books your children used during the year. We expect you to do that again this year and include a paragraph indicating what was important about each one." Or we may hear, "The Jones family voluntarily submitted standardized test scores for their children, all of whom scored above the 80th percentile. We expect you to do the same."
To figure out how to do the minimum that the law requires, we can ask questions such as, "Under this law, what is the least we can submit to the state? If the law requires that we submit our curriculum or plans for the year, what is the shortest, least revealing, most flexible, easiest document we can submit? If the law requires test scores, what are the fewest scores we can submit? If the law requires an assessment of our children's academic progress from us or a certified teacher, what is the briefest report we can submit? Can we simply say, 'This child is making satisfactory progress'? Have other people submitted such statements? What, if anything, has happened to them? Is there anything that we are doing now to comply with the law that we could eliminate?"
We can avoid questions we don't need to ask, such as, "How would school officials like us to comply with this law? What do they think we should do? What do we need to do to convince them that our homeschooling is working well?" School officials are trying to do something very different from what we homeschoolers are doing. They are trying to manage a large group of children they don't know, keep the taxpayers and potential employers happy, etc. Their experiences are so different from ours that it is very difficult for them to understand or appreciate homeschooling.
As homeschoolers, we may sometimes need to be "creative" in devising ways of complying with homeschooling laws and regulations. Since we are the ones who will benefit most from a reasonable way to comply, we have the most incentive to devise one. For example, a school official challenged a new homeschooling parent by claiming that his homeschool would have to comply with the Health Department's standards for school lunch programs. The parent replied that all the students went home for lunch, so there was no school lunch program for the official or the Health Department to worry about.
Refusing to Comply With Requests that Exceed State the Law
It is not unusual for officials request that homeschoolers do more than the minimum that the law requires. Sometimes this is because officials do not understand what the law requires, have been misinformed about requirements (perhaps by their superiors), or feel that they need more control over homeschoolers than the law allows. However, rights can be lost when people voluntarily comply with officials' demands that exceed the requirements of the law. This sets a precedent that increases the pressure on others to comply with similar excessive demands. For example, if one family agrees to give their school district a copy of their school calendar and curriculum (in a state in which this is not required), the district is likely to demand the same materials from other homeschoolers and from this family in the future.
When we know the laws and regulations in our state, as discussed above, we can recognize when school officials are exceeding their authority under the law. When we either ignore their demands or explain to them that we are in compliance with the law and they are exceeding it, they usually let the matter drop. If they persist, we can ask them to show us the statute or regulation that requires what they are demanding.
It is important to not exceed the law even in situations that seem very minor, such as when officials ask what tests we use, inquire about other homeschoolers and how they do things, ask for our attendance records when they have no evidence that our children are truant, ask for our children's immunization records, or insist that our children report for preschool screening. It may be very tempting to just comply and avoid a hassle or more serious trouble. However, rights are often lost bit by bit. It is extremely unlikely that any state will pass a law outlawing homeschooling. However, some state and local officials are trying to increase their regulation of homeschooling in small increments. When we are alert and refuse to comply, even when the matter seems rather trivial, we maintain our homeschooling rights and responsibilities.
Not Participating in Public School Programs in Ways That Will Threaten Our Homeschooling Freedoms
Another way to minimize the chances of increased regulation of homeschooling is not to participate in public school programs such as shared services or programs public schools have designed especially for homeschoolers. The more we interact with public schools, the more opportunities officials have to oversee and regulate our homeschools. Most homeschooling families choose to use programs and resources available in the community rather than getting drawn into public school mentality and regulations. As one experienced homeschooling mother observed, "There isn't anything the schools offer that I can't find in the community, usually in a better version." To be sure, it sometimes takes more time, energy, and (alas!) money to find or create opportunities for our children outside of conventional schools. But this is part of the price we pay for the freedom to homeschool according to our principles and beliefs. (For more information on this point, see our column "'Homeschooling' In Public Schools: A Dangerous Oxymoron," Home Education Magazine, Jan/Feb, 1999.)
Supporting Organizations and Publications That Understand These Principles and Have Helped Homeschoolers Live By Them
As we decide how we will spend money on homeschooling resources and information, it is important to spend as much as possible in ways that will support homeschooling freedoms. Specific examples include:
* Subscribing to homeschooling publications that include a wide range of approaches to homeschooling and have worked to serve homeschoolers in ways that maintain our homeschooling freedoms. Such publications rely on subscriptions to cover their expenses and do not have access to large advertising revenues as larger, more conventional publications do.
* Buying books and other resources from organizations that support homeschooling, even when it means paying a little more than we might have to pay a strictly commercial venture such as a nationwide bookstore chain. Again, such organizations depend on these sales. They may have difficulty competing with large commercial operations that rely on large volume. By being willing to spend a little more to support independent homeschooling organizations, we get much more than the books, magazines, and other resources we ordered.
* Supporting inclusive grassroots organizations that are working to maintain homeschooling freedoms and help homeschoolers get together. This includes local support groups and state-wide grassroots organizations. We can support them by becoming members (they need membership fees to cover their expenses), by making donations, and by participating in activities they sponsor, including communicating with legislators and attending conferences. Supporting such organizations is an important investment in the future of homeschooling for our families, our grandchildren, and others. Some families budget money each year for the organizations that are such an important part of our work to maintain our homeschooling freedoms. A question to ask in deciding which organizations to support is: Does the organization encourage people to work from strength, self-confidence, and positive purposes or does it rely on fears and insecurities?
In short, when we spend money for homeschooling materials and activities, we can ask ourselves, "Who or what are we supporting?" When we spend our money in the ways outlined above, we keep our financial resources within the homeschooling community rather than turning them over to commercial ventures who see the homeschooling community as a good place to make money but who are not committed to maintaining homeschooling freedoms. This will become even more important as the homeschooling movement grows, gains acceptance, and attracts the attention of profit-seekers who are not involved in or committed to homeschooling as a way of life.
When we act on the principles discussed in this column, we will be both acting in our own self-interest and working to maintain our homeschooling freedoms. It is worth understanding and remembering these principles so we are prepared to decide how to comply with homeschooling laws, how to deal with requests or demands from officials that exceed their authority as defined by law, how to respond to opportunities or enticements to participate in public school programs, and how to support publications and organizations that understand these principles and have helped homeschoolers live by them.
© 1999, Larry and Susan Kaseman
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