Handling it Ourselves
New homeschoolers understandably worry about meeting state requirements and interacting with division superintendents. Even veterans may feel intimidated by the presumed authority of the school officials with whom they necessarily have contact.
This apparently was the case with an experienced homeschooling mom who called me in mid-July one year, wanting to know whether I had already "asked permission" to homeschool in Virginia. Shocked at hearing that term from a seasoned homeschooler, I uttered the refrain I repeat on discussion lists, via e-mail over the phone and in person: "We are not asking permission to homeschool; we are notifying the superintendent that we are homeschooling."
The following day a mom on the VaEclecticHS statewide discussion list put her finger on the crux of the problem when she wrote, "The school system did its job on me. I'm afraid to question their authority!"
This is may be the reason that many homeschooling parents — full-fledged adults — feel intimidated in the face of school officials. Those old feelings return the same that arose when we received the threat of being sent to the principal's office. Kafkaesque specters of interrogation and a sense of impending danger may also haunt us.
Being aware of this, we can choose to empower ourselves by knowing the law, by providing only legally required materials and by learning from and joining with other homeschooling parents. Through these measures we can face our fears and respond confidently and appropriately when dealing with school officials who may ask for more than the law requires.
Only what the law requires!
When homeschoolers handle the small encounters ourselves we prevent them from snowballing into more serious difficulties.
We can retain our individual power and autonomy while demonstrating that homeschoolers are confident, polite and proactive, rather than fearful and aggressively reactive.
When homeschoolers provide more information than required by their home instruction statute, officials can become used to the additional materials, and start asking for them from others, unwittingly creating the perceived need for "legal protection." It is a vicious cycle. As children we learned to fear school officials' power, and when we homeschool, they present themselves as the authority, through the use of such phrases as "requesting permission to homeschool" on their documents.
We are afraid, so we give them whatever they want — without examining whether the request is in alignment the law — hoping they'll leave us alone. But doing so simply shows the officials that we are compliant, and they ask for more because we've demonstrated that we'll give them whatever they want. They continue to ask for more, we feel threatened, and we think we are incapable of stopping the cycle without intervention from a third party.
Keep it simple!
But we homeschooling parents are our own best protection. It isn't necessary to call in lawyers and conjure visions of lawsuits when a school district requests more than the law requires. Most education officials are reasonable and are just trying to do their job to the best of their ability. They may simply be unmotivated to learn the complexities and details of our murky home education statutes, so why uncork the vinegar bottle before you have tried using honey? With a little support and encouragement from each other, homeschoolers can effectively respond to officials who overstep their bounds.
Some groups encourage homeschoolers to submit the tables of contents of books when filing a "description of the program of study" here in Virginia. My county, Prince William, used to ask homeschoolers to provide the tables of contents of books, which is beyond what the law requires.
I responded with a simple, cordial letter stating that I had read the law and saw no provision for what they asked, but if they could point out the specific wording of the law that required me to provide what they ask I would be happy to comply. Of course, they couldn't furnish wording to back up their request, and they sent the so-called "approval" letter a few days later. The next year they did not ask me for more than the law requires, because I stood up for myself before.
Other local parents also responded effectively. In a few cases, the county's response was to say the papers wouldn't be processed until the "required" items were submitted. But these homeschoolers were not waiting for that "approval" letter; they did what the law requires, and eventually, the school division stopped asking for more than the law requires.
When homeschoolers handle the small encounters ourselves we prevent them from snowballing into more serious difficulties. Dealing directly with our local school divisions, we avoid falling into depending upon an organization to take care of us. We can retain our individual power and autonomy while demonstrating that homeschoolers are confident, polite and proactive, rather than fearful and aggressively reactive.
Issues such as these are often discussed on state and local homeschool e-mail lists, where members can ask for help and learn the nuances of dealing with education officials. One member of the statewide list wrote that she found her county's erroneous form "rather intimidating," and that, had she "not been on this list" and learned otherwise, she would have believed the county form was accurate.
Protect Homeschool Rights!
Through individual courage and commitment to providing only what the law requires; we protect our homeschooling rights. It is in our best interest to claim that responsibility on an individual level as much as we can, and to encourage others to do the same.
A new homeschooler, filing for her first time, confessed to me that she is "not fearless, like you are." But I am not fearless. Rather, I vowed, after a bad experience years ago, to avoid taking action based on fear. I still am afraid at times, but I face my fear, utilize the resources available, and trust that everything will turn out all right. And it has.
Note: Nothing in this article is meant as legal advice. For legal matters, contact a competent attorney.
Interacting with the School Division:
- ► Read your state law and ask questions of knowledgeable people until you understand the law well
- ► If your state has a home instruction statute, keep a current copy of it on hand
- ► Answer superintendents' queries in a timely manner
- ► Respond politely and confidently
- ► Communicate with school officials in writing and keep copies of all papers, so you have documentation of all exchanges
- ► Consider sending mail certified with return receipt as proof of compliance
- ► Seek information and support from other homeschool parents in a local support group or discussion list, before looking for an organization to act on your behalf
- ► Homeschooling is Legal - More Information About HSLDA and why you should think twice before buying in...
© 2001-2010 Shay Seaborne. All rights reserved. Re-printed with permission. Originally published in the newsletter of the The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers.
Shay Seaborne writes about a variety of homeschooling topics, including legal issues. Her articles have appeared in a number of publications and websites, and the newsletter of the The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers. Read more of Shay's articles on Synergy Field.