Truancy laws

There was another truancy alert in my homeschool feed today, so I feel the need to write about it today.

The only knowledge I had of a truancy officer growing up was  from watching Mrs. Crabtree the teacher and various school truancy officers on The Little Rascals. However, in recent years, I’ve been reading about them in the news, known folks who’ve fought daytime curfew laws and even knew of one incident where a truancy officer contacted a homeschooler in my home town.  In the case of the homeschooler in my town, the young man had completed his homeschooling while still of compulsory school attendance age (6-18) and the officer was checking to see why the family had not notified of their intent to home educate him according to Ohio Code.   Read more

Daytime curfews

Susan Ryan at Corn and Oil got me to thinking about daytime curfews again after reading one of her recent posts, A Trend: Random Home Visits

Whenever I read this type of news, I’m always reminded to go and read the 4th Amendment to make sure it is still  firmly in place.  It reads:

U.S. Constitution: Fourth Amendment

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Yet cases like the one that Susan wrote about continue to grow?  If you would like to make sure you aren’t surprised by a daytime curfew in your state, go to google or any other newsfeed and set up a “daytime curfew” + “your town” search that will be sent to your inbox if one is suggested and the media picks it up. Google’s can be found at the bottom of their page.  For example, since I typed in daytime curfew laws into the search, at the bottom of the page I found:

New! Get the latest news on daytime curfew laws with Google Alerts.

Click on the link and they ask for your email. You will be alerted whenever there is news on the subject.

If you are aware of a proposed daytime curfew in your town or nearby, I would love to hear what local folks are doing to try and stop it.   ~~~ Mary

When children don’t want to go to school

I read another article this morning about the Missouri woman who has been sentenced to serve jail time due to her son’s truancy. What struck me the most in this article was that the jury wanted to give Kathleen Casteel of Walnut Grove, MO seven days in jail, but the Judge determined two. From a December article, I learned that officials in the county where Ms. Casteel resides had decided to crack down on truancy this last school year. I don’t know who served on the jury, nor do I know all the details, but it seemed a rather strong ruling.

After reading about these families, I wonder what a parent is expected to do when a child doesn’t want to go to school? At HEM News & Commentary, Valerie Bonham Moon shared an article which reported that Ms. Casteel had attempted to take her handicapped son to school and that he fought her most of the way, sometimes leaving through windows, jumping out of the car and more. It seems to me, that if a child will go to those lengths to avoid going to school, someone ought to find out why. In one of the many articles I read, the jury felt Ms. Casteel’s sentence would send a loud message to everyone in the county. I just wonder how that strong message will help her son WANT to attend school?

I had a taste of the importance my school placed on “compulsory attendance” in high school one year after I had gathered quite a few absences after a few major illnesses that had kept me out of classes. I don’t believe I was in danger of being truant, but one day when I hurt my back in gym class I followed school procedure and went to the office to request permission to go home. I remember how shocked I was when permission was DENIED. I was told that I had missed too much school and could not miss any more. My wonderful Mother always made sure I had a quarter (this was long before cell phones) and I used it to call her and tell her about my back and that I wasn’t permitted to leave. I distinctly remember the assistant Principal’s shock as I proceeded to walk out the door. As I was walking out he said he was concerned that my absences could affect my grades and he just wanted me to live up to my potential. Mom was waiting in the parking lot and took me directly to our Doctor who diagnosed a major muscle tear in my back and ordered me to bed for a week. It was one of the first of many lessons in my life that one had to follow their heart and instincts.

I keep coming back to truancy and the fact that compulsory attendance fuels it. I think like many other laws, it is a good example of hard cases make bad law. It certainly serves those who wish to be there, but it also forces many who do not. Additionally, teachers, guidance counselors and administrators are forced to become truancy enforcers.

I cannot imagine how one forces a child, handicapped or not to attend any event? Especially if they are not doing well, dislike it or if they are getting picked on or bullied? It seems to put these children and their families constantly swimming against the tide without a life jacket.

I wonder if attempts to comply with programs such as No Child Left Behind, aren’t causing confusion between compulsory education and compulsory attendance? Some may wonder what the difference is between the two and as they often do, Larry and Susan Kaseman explain it well in their July/August Home Education Magazine Taking Charge Column article,
Don’t Let Compulsory Attendance Turn into Compulsory Education.

I am grateful that my Mom always trusted me when I said I didn’t feel well and allowed me to stay home from school. I never had to fight her about it. It seems to me that trusting children and families is the key. They are not guilty until proven innocent. These are American families who are most often trying to live their lives and do their best for themselves and their community. It may not always be the same way the experts expect it to be done, but after all, each of us are unique individuals. I believe that most parents are trying to give children their love and a nurturing environment to grow and learn in. These come from the heart and cannot be forced, nor legislated.

I don’t know that I ever lived up to my public school potential, but years later, that former assistant principal called me about an alumni event and we got to talking. He asked me what I was doing and how I was. I told him I was now a mother and how much I was enjoying homeschooling with my boys. His response surprised me. He said there was no greater vocation in life than that of a parent and he had always known I would do well. So in the end, I guess that week I missed in school didn’t really matter that much after all.

Truancy by Sue Duncan

Homeschoolers are being threatened with truancy by the school district if they do not attend school while the homeschool notification is being processed by the district. The reason being that they are not excused yet and therefore, are still under the compulsory attendance statute (ORC 3321.04) which states that the district has an obligation to know that students between the ages of 6 years and 18 years are enrolled in a program.

Home education notification, appropriately filed by the parent, satisfies the district’s mandate under compulsory attendance statute. The district is advised  where the child/ren will be and that the child/ren will be in a program provided by the parents, instructed at home. The State Board of Education adopted the  rules which parents and superintendents are required to follow in order to homeschool and such parental right is specifically protected and stated in the Purpose statement  of the regulations, OAC 3301-34-02: “The purpose of the rules in this chapter is to … safeguard the primary right of parents to provide the education for their child(ren).”

If there are issues of non-compliance with a notification, the superintendent and the parent are provided with a time period and process with which to resolve these issues. (OAC 3301-34-03(C)(1)(2) ). Since they would be issues of missing information, supplying this missing data should not be cause for considering a child truant. Further, the district should not assume the parent will not overcome any issues of non-compliance; and therefore, the district should not have cause for considering a child truant merely based on either missing data or any other resolvable issue of non-compliance.

Truancy is about attendance. It extends from ORC 3321.04, the compulsory attendance statute. It is about compelling attendance, not education; therefore, there appears to be no educational reason for pursuing truancy threats against home educators. Threats of truancy are not about the adequacy of an educational program; therefore, suggestions by districts that home educators must be “in school” until such time as their notification is reviewed and approved by superintendents are not well-reasoned or supported.

Home education notifications are reviewed to see that the required data is in place. This is a clerical, administrative procedure; a check-off list. The superintendent does not make a judgment regarding academic content, quality or adequacy. It is reviewed to see that it is provided. Therefore, none of the information should be of such import, or educational quality, that it would require a child be in attendance at a public school or other such program until such time as a superintendent reviews to see that the information is provided. This can be done while the child is home educating and while the notification is being reviewed for provision of the required data.

There is no starting date stated in the home education regulations. Long-standing, statewide practice is that most homeschoolers notify on/by Day One of their school  district’s new fall term.

Further, the regulations are specific with respect to obligations of the responsibilities and obligations of the parents and the superintendents. If the regulations required a  starting date, or there were penalties for not complying with such, one could believe that they would have been specifically stated. The regulations are specifically ambiguous in this regard, allowing for parental rights. Again, rights which are specifically stated and safeguarded by the home education regulations Statement of Purpose.  (OAC 3301-34-02)

Home education is a legal and equal educational choice in Ohio. It is equivalent to the other 5 choices currently available. Children attending parochial school, for example, are not required to attend public school until such time as their attendance in a parochial, private, community is demonstrated. They are allowed to begin immediately.  Under the equal treatment clauses of the U.S. and Ohio Constitutions, such rights must be accorded to home educators as well upon notification of their intention to home  educate. Special privileges may not be accorded to only one or a few groups.

Further, pursuing parents who have chosen a legal and equal educational option in Ohio, who have notified of their intention to home educate and who have, therefore,  satisfied the obligations with respect to compulsory attendance (and remembering that truancy is NOT about educational quality but attendance), would appear to be a  waste of limited district resources. Diversion of manpower, time, money and focus from legitimate issues of truancy facing a school district would seem to be issues which taxpayers, citizens (which home educating parents are) should be concerned and which should perhaps be brought to the attention of the local school board.

Providing evidence that they have filed a notification of intention to home educate, and therefore have satisfied the state’s interest in knowing where a child, ages 6-18, will be, even if they do not have their excusal from compulsory attendance in hand yet, should be sufficient. Lack of such excuse during the required 14-day compliance review  should not be cause for issuing truancy charges. Parents who have appropriately notified have complied with their obligations; such parental notification  allows the districts to comply with their own statutory obligations.

Further, districts are often remiss in providing home educating parents who are in compliance with letters of excuse from compulsory attendance in a timely manner (within 14 calendar days) as required under the code, OAC 3301-34-03(C)(1). It is unseemly that lack of district compliance should create truancy difficulties for parents who have followed the law in this regard.

Truancy threat of home educators is a wasteful exercise; it serves neither the district’s nor the home educator’s purpose of providing an education for children.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:
(1) Write a polite, firm, reasoned letter to the Superintendent. Information has been provided which may aid you as you consider what you shall say to the district in this regard. It is important for home educators to write letters to districts in areas of non-compliance. It serves the purposes of maintaining our own educational freedoms, and of educating the district with respect to THEIR compliance with the regulations. It smoothes the way for homeschoolers coming behind you. Take a stand today.

It is requested that you do NOT copy this information verbatim. Please feel free to use any of the quotes or citations in your letter, but it would be more effective if you would put your thinking into your own words. Form letters are not as effective as individually-created ones. Thank you.

(2) Send with copies to:

(a) School Board (this is critical; they are the supt’s boss and hold the purse strings; it would be important for them to know how the district is utilizing its limited resources. Are they diverting time, money, focus from legitimate district issues by requesting information from home educators which is not only NOT required, but which exceeds the regulations which are binding on the supt. and his office? They need to know how taxpayers and citizens of this district feel about the treatment of families pursuing a legal educational option in Ohio. Remember, you are not only home educators in your city, town, etc., you are taxpayers and citizens! These are your elected officials; your tax dollars pay their salaries…and the superintendent’s !)
(3) If you have notified your district, and it is beyond the 14-day requirement for the superintendent to provide you with an excusal, you should contact your district and politely request that the superintendent comply with the home education regulations, OAC 3301-34-03(C), under which the superintendent has a regulatory burden to provide the home educator, in writing, a notice of excuse from compulsory attendance, within 14 calendar days of receipt of notification of intention to home educate. This is a legal document which the superintendent’s office must provide and which homeschoolers are required to retain for their records. Ask for receipt of the excuse from compulsory attendance by return mail. (Be sure to send ALL correspondence via certified mail, return receipt requested.)

(4) Share this information with homeschoolers in your area. Be sure that they are receiving good, accurate and reliable information. Homeschoolers may find that by advising their district that they will NOT comply with requests that exceed the home education regulations, they are protecting their freedoms AND educating the district.  Let’s begin by becoming educated ourselves.

Rev. 02/01 – S.M. Duncan
Do not reprint without permission

Gymnastic Approach to Considering a Homeschooler Truant by Sue Duncan

Threatening home educators with truancy is not new, but it is certainly intimidating to be faced with the police authority of the state. Home educators should understand the contorted thinking involved in considering a notifying homeschooler truant…not to mention the inanity and waste of taxpayer dollars diverting time, money, manpower and focus from legitimate issues of truancy in a school district. (How many high school kids are bunking school and sneaking around the mall while the district chases down your 4th-grader? A good question to ask a school board.)

Truancy does not make sense in terms of the homeschooling notification process and district lamentations about “education.”

Follow me – the thinking goes something like this:

“They are not being educated – therefore they need to be in school while the superintendent ‘approves’ their notification. We have a responsibility to all our children – our mission is to see that they all get a good education.” (Ask them what their dropout rate is?)

So…an attendance officer shows up at your door and charges you with truancy.

However…the statute which they use to pursue parents is that of compulsory ATTENDANCE, not compulsory education.

Okay…so the child is not in school and therefore not attending…uh-oh… the superintendent may have a point.

But wait…back up a minute. Did you notify? Well, of course you did – that’s what precipitated the truancy threat.

Well…why do we have to notify anyway?

Under ORC 3321.04, the superintendent has a responsibility to know where children of compulsory ages (6-18 y/o) are in his district; this is his regulatory obligation.

When a parent notifies of his intention to home educate he enables the superintendent to fulfill this statutory burden. The superintendent NOW knows where this child is – where he is ATTENDING. He can do his job under compulsory attendance statute.

Remember: this process is called “NOTIFICATION. ” (OAC 3301-34-03)

Notify: “…to give notice to; to inform;”

Inform: “…to give knowledge of something; to tell.”

Keep in mind that the regulations were approved and adopted by the State Board of Education after a year of research, discussion and debate. They did not call it a “Permission to Commit Home Education;” or “Application to Home Educate.” They were specific in their use of words…both in the regulations and in the state-created notification form. They understood the meaning and the difference between notifying and asking permission. They made this process about notifying -not requesting.

Example:

Requesting: Mom, may I dye my hair purple?

Notifying: Don’t worry, Mom; it washes out.

Okay..the superintendent says: “I have to ‘approve’ your request and you must have my permission before you can homeschool.”

The obvious question is WHY?

If this whole process of truancy is about ATTENDANCE – why would the superintendent have to approve my notification before I begin homeschooling? Once I have advised the superintendent where my child will be educated, where he will attend is assured. What requires approval?

Take it apart:

Notification items 1, 2, 3 and 4 are vital statistics; Items 5, 8, and 9 are assurances – merely requiring a checkmark or “yes” notation. Item 10 is a parent signature affirming the provided data. Item 6 and 7 – usually the most troublesome for homeschoolers and school districts – asks that an intended curriculum and list of resources be provided…and very clearly specifies: “For informational purposes only.” (Go above to read definition of “inform.”)

None of the requirements need approval. They are vital statistics or agreements, or a signature. The curriculum and list of resources are “intended” and this may change during the year. In truth, given the reality of most homeschooling lives, they often do. AND NO ONE CHECKS AT THE END OF THE YEAR TO SEE IF THIS HAS BEEN FOLLOWED THROUGH. So, what’s the sense of reviewing these other than the reason intended by the State Board of Education- that is, the parent has planned for the academic year (curriculum) and this is what will be used (resource list).

Academic assessment of parental choice is provided upon subsequent notifications; submissions of work product or full test scores are not required; it is merely required that children meet a particular assessment standard; parents control this process. (Caution should exercised if choosing the third assessment option since it may require more from a parent than is appropriate or wise and the assessment standard is undetermined.)

What is necessary for approval or permission other than to see that ALL the required data has been supplied? A check-off procedure at most. That is what compliance is about: ” If the superintendent, upon review of the information, determines that it is in compliance with all requirements set forth in paragraph (A)[notification items] of this rule, the superintendent shall notify the parent(s) in writing that the child is excused from school attendance for the remainder of the current school year.” (OAC 3301-34-03(A)(C)(1) )

Check it out. The superintendent only needs to check that all the required info is supplied – that is it! Nothing in this rule authorizes his review for academic adequacy, appropriateness or quality. And, remember, you do not supply grade level – so how could he make this determination in any event? Believe me…after a year of debate and discussion about home education regulations and the further discussion by the State Board of Education (SBE) prior to adoption, one can imagine that if judgment of educational quality, adequacy and appropriateness was the intention of the home education regulations, this would have been CLEARLY and SPECIFICALLY stated. It is not.

Indeed, the opposite can be understood. Take a look at the regulations…the notification section and even the SBE-created form: they demonstrate the thinking here that a parent could be trusted to provide the education for his/her child/wren…and that their word was their bond. NO PROOFS ARE REQUIRED in the regulations. We do not have to prove our residency, that 900 hours will be provided, our minimal educational background (e.g., we do not supply a copy of our high school diploma), or have a notary certify our signature and make us swear to provide the “intended” curriculum, etc. At the end of the year, an academic assessment is provided which demonstrates a particular assessment goal. No one certifies the qualifications of the evaluating teacher or the test-provider; nor is further evidence or schoolwork supplied to the district; it is understood that determining the certifying teacher or test-giver is appropriately qualified is the responsibility of the parent. Remember that signature of affirmation? It is a solemn declaration by the parent regarding the provided information.

Keep in mind: the regulations are entitled: Rules for Excuses from Compulsory Attendance for Home Education. Why then must we PROVE that an education will take place in order to receive an excuse from COMPULSORY ATTENDANCE?

If neither homeschoolers nor any of the other school options available must prove academics, even more puzzling is the notion that a child be required to sit in a school while a superintendent “approves” the parent’s notification. Think about this: A child who sits in school – takes up space, time, effort, manpower, money – all the while knowing s/he will not be attending there. What kind of effort do you think that child will expend? How much “education” will that child receive?

AND…while sitting idly in this school -this compelled attendance does not guarantee education – in fact, it actually interferes with the child’s education – keeping him away from the source of his education -his home and parent/s.

So, why the threat of truancy? It is not to ensure an education for the child. The superintendent has already fulfilled his job requirement of knowing where the child is being educated. If required information is missing, a parent can simply provide that information when informed in writing by the superintendent that he needs to do so. It makes no sense to take a child away from his education, which is taking place in his home, while the parent completes the process.

REMEMBER: home education is a legal and equal educational option in Ohio. That means that it cannot be treated differently from other options; therefore, one could ask: If your child was attending Washington Elementary and decided to attend St. Mary’s, would she be required to sit at Washington Elementary until such time as the superintendent “approved” the transfer? NO! Neither the other way around. So why would a homeschooler be required to do so? Might this be considered a special privilege or immunity given to the other educational options in Ohio NOT given to home educators? Could it be that home educators are not being treated equally? Such actions are strictly prohibited by the Ohio Constitution.

The purpose section of the regulations wherein the specific intention of these regulations is clearly stated – no equivocation or room for misunderstanding: “… to safeguard the primary right of parents to provide the education for their child(ren). …” The PRIMARY right of parent(s) – not the school district or the superintendent – but the PARENT. (OAC 3301-34-02)

And…guess what? These are YOUR children – not the state’s; the superintendent has obligations, yes; but they are limited and specific and set by statute. And, you have rights and responsibilities. Comply as required and you are entitled by these regulations -which have the force of law – to home educate, without prejudice. Pursuing home educators, who have appropriately complied, with threats of truancy is prejudicial.

So…ask yourself -what’s truancy about with home educators?

Education? No.

Attendance? No.

Legitimacy? No.

Responsibility? No.

What then?

Ignorance… ?

Misunderstanding…?

Prejudice ?

Harassment…?

What can you do? Okay…you could contact an attorney and have him write a letter on your behalf to the school district. Personally, this would not be my first choice. If we consider that we have chosen home education because we believe that we can best provide our children with their education, it only makes sense to take the next step and protect our homeschooling rights ourselves. What can be more important than maintaining the freedoms to be thus involved in our children’s lives?

Before you resort to an attorney, first consider contacting the school district or your local school board yourself and communicating with them – providing them with a face of homeschooling that they may not have considered. Homeschoolers are real people who are educated about their rights and responsibilities; they are reasonable, calm and thoughtful; they are not militant or aggressive, but educated and involved. Might this education process be one that aids your homeschooling community – even if only to get the district thinking about the things discussed here.

And…there’s always the local school board. Putting a real face on homeschooling – courteous, respectful, well-reasoned, thoughtful and concerned. School districts constantly complain about the lack of funds, yet now they are spending precious taxpayer dollars – diverting staff, effort, $$$, from legitimate issues facing a district to pursue a homeschooler choosing a legal and educational option? Might this be of concern to you both as a home educator and a taxpaying citizen?

Gather those in your homeschooling community and speak with them about this issue and strategies that you might employ cooperatively to educate both your community and your school district officials. Spread the word.

If you have not read the article on truancy – on this website under Challenges-What to Do…you might choose to do so.

Also…check out the notification fact sheet and the Legal Opinion and Addendum Fact Sheets – which addresses the equal treatment issue- on the OHEC website: http://grafixbynix.com/OHEC/

Prepared and Submitted by Susan M. DuncanÓ, August, 2001

Please do not reprint for publication or distribution with prior permission