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This is a call to action for all homeschoolers and homeschooling families across the country!
Harvard Summit to Discuss Regulating Homeschool: June 18-19, 2020 at Harvard Law School to discuss “a controversial practice”—homeschooling. “Homeschooling Summit: Problems, Politics, and Prospects for Reform” is the title given to this meeting to discuss homeschooling. It is an invitation-only event and one that is not open to homeschoolers to listen or comment.
While each state controls regulations related to homeschooling in their jurisdiction, some essential rights are protected by the federal government. Some states have very relaxed regulations, some are exceptionally strict. Two things remain pretty much the same across all states: the right to homeschool our children if we so choose, and the right to a religious-based exemption from state regulations.
All families that utilize homeschooling in their household must be familiar with the laws in their state and comply with their local regulations. While I do have some issues with how homeschooling regulations are handled on a legislative and a practical level, I firmly believe that it is our right, as parents, to have as much control over our children’s education as we deem necessary. Parents who homeschool choose to do so for many different reasons, most are deeply personal. It is a huge commitment on the part of the parent to be totally responsible for our children’s educational needs. We undertake a job that schools employ dozens of professionals to do for most parents. We understand the importance of the task, and we utilize a veritable motherlode of resources to ensure the successful completion of our duty to educate our children.
There are always bad apples in every arena, and homeschooling is no different. The problem is those bad apples in homeschooling will have dire consequences in the lives of children. The Turpin Family is a prime example of the bad apples of homeschooling. In a nutshell: This family had 12 children in their household and were “homeschooling” according to the laws of California, under a religious exemption. For those who don’t know what a religious exemption is, my home state of Virginia lists it as: A school board shall excuse from attendance at school any pupil who, together with his parents, by reason of bona fide religious training or belief, is conscientiously opposed to attendance at school. For purposes of this subdivision, the term bona fide religious training or belief does not include essentially political, sociological or philosophical views or a merely personal moral code. Section 22.1-254(H)(5) states that children who are excused under the religious exemption above are excused from all provisions of the compulsory attendance law, including the homeschool requirements of §22.1-254.1. Families who are excused need not file an annual notice of intent or a year-end assessment. So parents who can sufficiently prove a religious exemption status for their family has pretty much zero oversight when it comes to homeschooling their children. The Turpin Family abused a similar law in California and was found to have committed heinous acts of abuse and neglect after one of the children escaped and reported their parents to the authorities. The parents were each sentenced to 25 years of prison after their children testified about the years of torture they endured.
So where do we draw the line? How do we protect citizen rights to homeschool while protecting children’s rights to safety and education? Under normal circumstances, that is accomplished through a certain level of supervision by the local Board of Education for the county’s school district. Some states and districts have more strict supervision than others. On average, most parents must submit a letter to their local school district of their notice of intent to homeschool their children for each school year. We call it our NOI (“Notice of Intent” letter). Often times, the NOI will include the parent’s name(s), children’s name(s) and grade level(s), subjects that will be taught in that year, and the instructing parent’s credentials (usually a copy of their diploma or university degree, teaching license, etc). In addition to our NOI, most parents must also submit proof of academic achievement for their children or an evaluation of their children by a licensed teacher. While this may not seem like a lot of supervision, it does stand to prove that the parent is either administering state-approved standardized testing on an annual basis or having a licensed teacher evaluate their kids. Any licensed teacher worth their salt will keep an eye out for anything that isn’t quite right, and report it. Personally, I elect to have a teacher I know to evaluate my child annually, and she also submits suggestions to me after her evaluation to help me to be a more effective instructor. That being said, I also know plenty of parents who administer standardized tests to their kids.
I have always felt that the religious exemption clauses were a little off. I don’t discuss religious or political things very often on this site but as a pagan homeschooler, it really burns me up that unless you are Christian you can forget being approved for a religious exemption. Call me crazy, but the whole “Freedom of Religion” coupled with the separation of church and state makes me feel that ANY religious belief should be able to qualify for a religious exemption, not just the majority Christian followers.
We all have our flaws and but everyone I know has always told me that I am a great mother. I always think of my child first and try to do what is best for him in every situation. Plainly, he comes before me. His needs come before my own. To me, that is just natural instinct for any parent. But, I also know that isn’t always the case. It makes me so sad (and sometimes very mad!) when parents just don’t… parent. I know that is probably going to be brought up more than once at this so-called “Summit”, and the suggestion that all of us homeschoolers should face tougher restrictions, requirements, or that homeschooling be banned entirely.
While I agree that something should be done about the abuse of the religious exemption, I don’t think that all homeschoolers should pay for something done only a very tiny fraction of our number. I am no legislator, and I have no solutions to offer. Religious exemptions could possibly be subject to some type of supervision as the rest of us are, to ensure the welfare of the children. At the same time, religious exemptions should also specifically be opened up to non-Christian homeschooling families. I homeschool my child for many different reasons, one of which is religious, yet I can not get a religious exemption because of religious bias in the school system… which just reinforces a different reason that I homeschool: they don’t teach American Indian values and culture while we do at home. So, let’s hope that our legislators can see the light when this topic reaches them because, honestly, the ones making the suggestions to the legislators don’t seem to want our input at all. Why else would we not be able to listen, attend or submit questions to the “summit”? Leave a comment below to voice your opinion or share your stories! I read each and every one!
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