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.
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?
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