Many parents were alarmed by the recent news from California when the Court of Appeals decided on February 28, 2008 to declare homeschooling illegal in California unless the parent is a certified teacher. The court is re-hearing this case and so the previous decision is no longer in effect. Nevertheless, the California case serves to remind us that government agents do not always know or understand home education laws and are frequently suspicious of people who educate outside the mainstream system of public, private, and parochial schools.
I am blessed to live in Illinois where the state and local school districts require virtually no reporting from homeschoolers. Many of you live in a place where that is not the case, but always remember that the actual right of parents to home school is not only Church law, but also the law of all fifty states as well as all the provinces of Canada. (We must not forget to pray for parents in the European Union, many of whom presently are denied this freedom.) At the same time, we must recognize that many public officials do not support home education, and we should be ready to protect our rights.
We had an illustration of this recently in suburban Chicago where a former home schooling mom was contacted by someone from the County Board of Health. The official was looking for the names of families who are not having their children vaccinated for various reasons, as well as contact information for other support groups. Thankfully, the mom who received the call had the presence of mind not to give out any information over the telephone. She encouraged the county agent to mail information to her home and promised to forward it to other families.
This episode reminds us that any family could be contacted by school officials. That being said, the likelihood of a particular family being contacted by the school system is low. Even so, it is good to give some thought to how to handle a contact if it comes.
When a telephone call comes out of the blue in the middle of your home schooling day, it can be easy to get frazzled and handle it in a way you might later regret. If this happens to you, try to remember the letter “C”. Here are the principles:
- Be Calm and Courteous – It is counterproductive to antagonize public officials and might move you to the top of their list.
- Consider Carefully before you speak – No law requires you to give information over the telephone to a total stranger, who may or may not be who he or she claims to be.
- Control the Conversation – Just because someone asks a question, does not mean that you must respond. It is a good practice not to give any information at all. No matter how concerned an official may sound, do not presume that he or she has your best interest at heart.
Here’s how this works in practice. Let’s say Mrs. Home Schooling Mom gets a call from the Truancy Control Officer at the local public school.
TCO: Mrs. HSM, I am Jane Smith from the school district. Are your children enrolled in school?
Mrs. HSM: Can you spell your name please? What exactly is your title?
TCO: It’s Smith with an “i”. I am the district Truancy Control Officer assistant. It is my job to ensure that children are in school or being home schooled according to state law. Can you tell me how your children are being educated? How old are they? Are they enrolled in a school?
Mrs. HSM: Please understand that I cannot give personal information to someone who has called me on the phone. I have no way of verifying if you are who you say you are. Would you please put any questions in a letter on school district letterhead and send it to me at home?
TCO: Is your address 123 Main Street?
Mrs. HSM: I am sorry, but I cannot give you my address when I am not sure who you are. Please send me an official letter of inquiry.
In our play-acting, notice that Mrs. HSM gave no information whatsoever to TCO, and did not even acknowledge having children. She also did not engage TCO in conversation, defend her right to home school, or quote state education law, all of which might unnecessarily antagonize the unknown caller. She did ask for the caller’s name and title, which is important to know.
TCO may very well be ignorant of home schooling law in your state or province. It is easy to pick up the phone and call and ask for information that is beyond the scope of the law. Writing a letter requires more work and starts a paper trail, so Mrs. HSM may never hear from the district again. If the district follows up by sending a registered letter, it should be given to a lawyer or answered in consultation with HSLDA. It is always best to use the bureaucracy against the bureaucrats!
This issue is covered in greater detail in Dr. Mary Kay Clark’s book, Catholic Home Schooling, A Handbook for Parents. Information about home schooling laws is available from the Home School Legal Defense Association website. There is a link to HSLDA in the Parent Resources section of Seton’s website.
Let’s be vigilant about our civil liberties and rights under the law.
Tip of the Month
Let the answering machine take your calls during the homeschool day. Caller ID will allow you to pick up the calls you want, from your husband for example, and allow you to call others back at your convenience, only if you want to, and when you are prepared. Many thanks to Juliette from Illinois for this terrific reminder.