Homeschooling and the Law
Homeschooling and the law by Gail Nagasako
While this article addresses the laws of Hawaii in particular, the principles I discuss are important for all homeschoolers. Your DOE is undoubtedly like ours: they don’t really know the homeschool regulations so they tell you what they think you have to do and this will almost always be more than is really required. To maximize your freedom within the law, you must know your state laws and see the places where the DOE could misinterpret their meaning. This article will have you see what to look for in your own laws.
5-part series published in Home’s Cool Gazette
A fair amount of the calls I get from homeschoolers during the year involve questions about demands that school officials are making of the parents. Nearly always these demands go beyond what is required by the law. In Teach Your Own, John Holt advises that homeschoolers do no more than what is required by the law lest the school or government officials get the idea that these demands should now be extended to all homeschoolers. Here in Hawaii, we have excellent laws, allowing us a great deal of freedom and yet sufficient to satisfy the state’s interest in seeing that its children are not neglected.
In this (series) I cover the regulations and what problems or questions typically come up. I caution the reader that I have no legal training and am not giving legal advise. What I have done is study these regulations thoroughly and helped lobby for some of the revisions. I also fought a winning battle with the school officials all the way up to the State Superintendent and State Psychologist when the Maui officials were insisting my son had to be tested. I also have in my files a fair amount of legal information, Supreme Court decisions and such, to support anyone needed to defend themselves. But should such a situation arise, counsel of a licensed attorney should be sought.
As an aside, many homeschoolers ignore all of the homeschooling regulations and simply go about the business of living their lives and educating their children. Generally this is due to either a desire to not be bothered with red tape and/or a political stance that the government has no business involving itself in the lives and education of the family. This (article) is for those who choose to comply with the regulations, but it is not necessarily an encouragement to do so.
“§8-12-12College entrance examination, alternative education. A child in an alternative educational program may participate in any college entrance examination which is made available to all other students.”
If you want your child to take standardized tests, contact your school principal to find out how to register. Your child can take the SATs or CATs or whatever along with public school kids if you like. The Christian homeschool group (CHEM) administers tests and you may join them — contact Kathy Fernandez, 572-4599. You can also send for kits to test your kids in your home yourself for $25 per test. Call Bayside School Services, 1 (800) 723-3057. Another source for tests for grades 1 – 12: FLO (Family Learning Organization) 1-800-405-TEST. Best to call before 11am, Pacific Time.
“§8-12-13 Notification of intent to home school.
(a) The parent shall provide the local public school principal with a notice of intent to home educate the child before initiating home schooling, The purpose of notification is to allow the department, upon request of the parent, to assist in the educational efforts. The notice of intent may be submitted on a department developed form (Form OIS-4140) or in a letter containing the following items:
(1) Name, address, and telephone number of the child;
(2) Birthdate and grade level of the child; and
(3) Signature of the parent.
(b) The notice of intent shall be acknowledged by the principal and the district superintendent. The notice of intent is for recordkeeping purposes and to protect families from unfounded accusations of educational neglect or truancy.”
Notice that no mention is ever made of permission. The parents notifies the school of their intent. Sometimes parents whose children are in school are concerned about getting them out. There is no special instruction for this situation in the homeschool regulations. Parents simply send in their notice and begin homeschooling.
“(c) If a child’s annual progress report has been submitted as stated in §8-12-18(b), notification of intent to home school need not be resubmitted annually, except in cases where the child is transferring from one local public school to another, for example, transition from sixth grade to an intermediate school. Then the parents shall notify the principal of the child’s new local public school.”
The annual report mentioned here will be covered in a later column when §8-12-18(b) comes up. The point here about the notice of intent is that it need not be filed again if you’ve submitted a report of your homeschooling activities in May or June and if your child would be attending the same school next year if he or she were in school.
“(d) The parent(s) submitting a notice to home school a child shall be responsible for the child’s total educational program including athletics and other co-curricular activities. [Eff. Nov 07 1991] (Auth: HRS §§296-12, 298-9) (Imp: HRS §298-9)”
This is a very key provision. If you look up “responsible” in the dictionary, it has such synonyms as “accountable, answerable, liable, chargeable.” But when you look at “responsibility”, it clarifies what these mean when it says, “the ability to act independently and make decisions.” (Oxford Complete Wordfinder ©1996). Being responsible then precludes any need to get permission. The parents, in exercising their “responsibility” are able to decide for themselves what the child’s total educational program is and to act upon their own decisions independent of any school officials’ ideas or permissions.
On the other hand, there is nothing in these regulations that forbids the schools from accepting homeschooled children into various classes or school sports. Just as a responsible parent might enroll their children in classes not connected with any school, so, too, could parents exercise their responsibility by enrolling their children in school sports. If the school has requirement,s such as good grades, for its students to be able to participate in these sports or extra-curricular classes, then certainly they could require that homeschooling parents ensure that their students are performing well on their curricula. In many parts of the country schools do this with no problems.
“§8-12-14 Required statutory services. All educational and related services statutorily mandated shall be made available at the home public school site to home-schooled children who have been evaluated and certified as needing educational and related services and who request the services. [Eff. Nov 07 1991 ] (Auth: HRS §§296-12, 298-9) (Imp: HRS §298-9)”
So if your children were in school and needed the services of a speech therapist or other specialty, you are entitled to those services as a homeschooler. Extreme caution is advised, however, because state and federal services always come with a hook. They will classify your children and often pressure the parents into sending the children to school as they will likely feel that homeschooling is contributing to or even causing the problem.
“§8-12-15 Record of curriculum. The parent submitting a notice of intent to home school shall keep a record of the planned curriculum for the child. The curriculum shall be structured and based on educational objectives as well as the needs of the child, be cumulative and sequential, provide a range of up-to-date knowledge and needed skills, and take into account the interests, needs and abilities of the child.”
The bold emphasis is mine. Notice that it does not say the parents need to submit their curriculum to anyone, but that they shall keep it. It doesn’t even say it has to be written down. Our habit is to sit down at the beginning of our school year (which may not start until November due to the gorgeous September-October weather) and to discuss Thumper’s goals for the year and to work out a plan of some sort. This has sometimes been sketchy and sometimes fairly detailed. Either way, that is “structure” and is “based on educational objectives as well as the needs of the child” and takes “ into account the interests, needs and abilities of the child.”
“… cumulative and sequential” are impossible not to achieve, in my view, as the learning process has a life of its own. The law does not require a greatly detailed curriculum, nor does it require you to stick with what you planned. Your curriculum might include a line, “Study the planets,” for example, and your children happen to read that Mars was the Roman god of war and suddenly they become enthralled with mythology so off you go reading myths. This isn’t the cumulation or sequence you had in mind when you started, but it is the one your children’s interests led you to.
Providing “a range of up-to-date knowledge and needed skills” is likewise virtually impossible to miss achieving. First of all, nobody’s knowledge is truly up-to-date. Secondly, even the child who runs loose in the woods all day will be acquiring new knowledge and skills. Read the wonderful book The Tracker for a great example of this. On the other end of the spectrum, a young man just won a video game tournament and took home “$60,000 in prizes — including a 1987 Ferrari 328 GTS.” (U.S. News, July 21, ‘97) Now video games and fancy sports cars aren’t necessarily important to you or me, but the point is that even playing video games be part of these curriculum requirements.
“The record of the planned curriculum shall include the following:
(1) The commencement date and ending date of the program;”
For school record-keeping purposes, I consider my school year to start June 1 and end May 31 every year.
“(2) A record of the number of hours per week the child spends in instruction;”
Since children can receive “instruction”, that is learn, from everyone and everything, even in dreams, I consider that Thumper spends 24 hours a day, everyday, in instruction.
“(3) The subject areas to be covered in the planned curriculum:
(A) An elementary school curriculum may include the areas of language arts, mathematics, social studies, science, art, music, health and physical education to be offered at the appropriate development stage of the child;
(B) A secondary school curriculum may include the subject areas of social studies, English, mathematics, science, health, physical education and guidance.”
The bold emphasis is mine again. The word “may” connotes that we are free to included these subjects in our curricula, but we don’t have to. Most of them will come up just in the course of living anyway.
(4) The method used to determine mastery of materials and subjects in the curriculum;
Some people may feel they want to use tests or the sorts of structured curricula that requires one to progress through a series of graduated activities. I use interest as my guide. If Thumper is still interested in the subject, then he hasn’t mastered it yet. When he decides to move on to something else, I trust that he’s mastered it enough for his purposes for now.
“and (5) A list of textbooks or other instructional materials which will be used. The list shall be in standard bibliographical format. For books, the author, title, publisher and date of publication shall be indicated. For magazines, the author, article title, magazine, date, volume number and pages shall be indicated. [Eff. Nov 07 1991] (Auth: HRS §§296-12, 298-9) (Imp: HRS §298-9)”
It doesn’t say the list has to be written, nor long. I generally have a few books or materials stashed to bring out when we sit down to plan our year. Mostly, though, my “list” is all after-the-fact as I never know what I’ll end up using. We might read interesting articles out of Newsweek, Time or US News. We never know what library book will capture our attention.
§8-12-16 Notification of termination of home-schooling. The parent shall notify the principal if home schooling is terminated. A child shall be reenrolled in the local public school or licensed private school unless a new alternative educational program is presented within five school days after the termination of home schooling. [Eff. Nov 07 l991 (Auth: HRS §§296-12, 298-9) (Imp: HRS §298-9)
In cases where kids have “terminated” home-schooling, they did so by going to school, so no notice of termination has been necessary. I suppose if a parent wanted a child to go to school, and was afraid he or she wouldn’t show up, then a notification would handle that. I’ve never heard of this though.
§8-12-17 Educational neglect. If there is reasonable cause for the principal to believe that there is educational neglect, the department in compliance with §298-9. Hawaii Revised Statutes, shall intervene and take appropriate action in accordance with established departmental procedures. Reasonable cause for educational neglect shall not be based on the refusal of parents to comply with any requests which exceed the requirements of this chapter. [Eff. Nov 07, 1991 (Auth: HRS §§296-12, 298-9) (Imp: HRS §298-9)
At a lecture I gave on homeschooling once, a social worker brought up this issue and how there were these “homeschoolers” who were just running loose and getting in trouble. On further questioning, I found that she considered that any kids not attending school were homeschoolers. Certainly there are rare cases where parents virtually abandon their kids to the streets and attention of the social services is probably warranted. But this is not homeschooling. No matter how unstructured the school program seems to be, in homeschooling, there is always a parent or other caring adult behind the scenes with a watchful eye and a helping hand when needed. And no principal to my knowledge has found any “reasonable cause” to take action in any homeschoolers’ lives.
§8-12-18 Testing and Progress reports of home-schooled children. a) Test scores shall be required for grades identified in the Statewide Testing Program, grades three, six, eight, and ten. A child is eligible to participate in the Statewide Testing Program at the local public school. The parent is responsible for securing necessary details from the principal of the local public school. The parent may elect to arrange for private testing at the parent’s own expense. The tests used shall be comparable to the appropriate criterion or norm-referenced tests used by the department in the grades concerned. The parent may request and the principal may approve other means of evaluation to meet the Statewide Testing Program requirements. (emphasis mine)
This is one of the most overlooked statements in the regulations. Principals and other school officials often say that our kids have to be tested without exception. Now, the sentence does say “may”, which means the principal could disapprove “other means of evaluation”. When we were testifying on behalf of this exemption from testing, I asked the panel about this and was told that if our principal would not approve our alternative to testing, we could appeal to the District Office. He said that there was already a procedure in the DOE to handle disputes with principals, thus this need not be written into these regulations.
When it came time for Thumper to be tested (3rd grade — 1992), I requested that I be allowed to submit a video instead. My principal refused it and, to my amazement, so did the Maui District Office. So I appealed it all the way to the State Superintendent of Schools. After much correspondence back and forth, they finally acquiesced and accepted my video. I’ve not had any problems since and for 6th and 8th grade testing years, I simply sent a more detailed report of what we’d done and read.
One thing I learned from my engagement with the DOE over testing was that, as John Holt says in Teach Your Own, don’t ask a question that you aren’t willing to accept an answer to. That is, don’t ask “May I submit a video (or whatever)?” They may answer, “No.” Instead, send them what you want to send. They can reject it but it’s much more trouble.
There may still be some principals who insist everyone has to be tested. If you run into this, just send him a copy of the regulations with the exemption section high-lighted. If he still refuses, appeal to the District Office. They do understand the regulations now. You may call me if you need support in this.
(b) The parent shall submit to the principal an annual report of a child’s progress.
Note that it does not say this need be long or detailed. I saw one that was handwritten on one side of one sheet of 5 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ stationery paper. I like writing a more detailed report as I then have this for my records should Thumper need any of that information for a resume or college application. I’ve also included lots of references and quotes supporting my unschooling approach to education because at one time I was concerned about school officials. Now, for lots of reasons, school officials and the public recognize homeschooling as a viable option and are not so worried about us nor as worried that we’ll somehow get them in trouble.
One of the following methods shall be used to demonstrate satisfactory progress: (emphasis mine)
(1) A score on a nationally-normed standardized achievement test which demonstrates grade level achievement appropriate to a child’s age;
So if you decide to use test scores to demonstrate progress, your child should score at around grade level. Number 2 below, however, gives another way to use test scores. If your child scores below his grade level on test one year, if he shows a grade level better the next year, even though he’s still not up to his grade level, this is acceptable demonstration of progress. Of course, you decide what grade your child is in and often parents, even of schooled kids, hold their kids back a year so that they will not be in the youngest group of kids in that grade.
(2) Progress on a nationally-normed standardized achievement test that is equivalent to one grade level per calendar year, even if the overall achievement falls short of grade level standards;
(3) A written evaluation by a person certified to teach in the State of Hawaii that a child demonstrates appropriate grade level achievement or significant annual advancement commensurate with a child’s abilities; and
A few people have friends who are teachers but who also understand homeschooling principles such as delayed academics, interest-driven curricula, and readiness and who could write the evaluation. However, any time you are having someone else evaluate your child, there are risks. Remember, that person is putting their reputation on the line when they pass your child and so you may find them demanding more and understanding less than you had anticipated.
(4) A written evaluation by the parent which shall include:
(A) A description of the child’s progress in each subject area included in the child’s curriculum;
(B) Representative samples of the child’s work; and
(C) Representative tests and assignments including grades for courses if grades are given.
This is what most homeschoolers that I know do. It’s really an expanded definition of the “annual report” mentioned above.
The first thing to remember is that the child’s curriculum is set by you and your child. So if learning to cook or to cooperate or to help the needy or to do chores or to be honest and honorable are important parts of your curricula, as they are of ours, you might mention anecdotes that show progress in these areas.
If academic subjects are part of your curriculum, as they are becoming to us, these can be reported simply, too. Description of progress in English might be “Covered nouns”. Under history might be “Covered American Civil War, including watching Gone with the Wind”. Math could be “Learned long division.” Or these could be in great detail. The regulations don’t say how detailed it must be.
Samples of work can be few, also. I sometimes include a copy of the first and last letters Thumper wrote for the year or a copy of a drawing he did.
Tests, assignments and grades are mostly irrelevant to homeschoolers. I sit down with Thumper at the end of each year to evaluate our school year and he likes to give himself grades, but I don’t pass these along to our principal.
(c) When tests are administered under the Statewide Testing Program for grades three, six, eight, and ten, the parent may choose to have the child participate in the school’s testing program and have the results serve as a means of assessing annual progress for that year.
That is, if you want your child tested, you can have it done through the school and you can forego a written progress report for that year. An “annual report” is still needed, but it seems appropriate to simply write to the principal to tell him or her that test scores will serve as your progress assessment for the year.
(d) The principal shall review the adequacy of a child’s progress. If progress is not adequate, the principal shall meet with the parent to discuss the problems and help establish a plan for improvement. In this case, the principal may request and the parents shall share their record of the child’s planned curriculum. When standardized test scores are used, adequate progress shall be considered to be scores/stanines in the upper two thirds of the scores/stanines. Unless progress is inadequate for two consecutive semesters, based on a child’s scores on a norm-referenced test for that grade level or the written evaluation by a person certified to teach in the State of Hawaii, recommendations to enroll the child in a public or private school or to take legal action for educational neglect shall be prohibited. No recommendations shall be made for a child before the third grade. [Eff.Nov 07, 1991] (Auth: HRS §§296-12, 298-9) (Imp: HRS §298-9)
This section sounds intimidating, but I’ve never heard of anyone having problem with this. Homeschooled children generally thrive and glowing annual reports are easy to write. Also, per §8-12-15 Record of curriculum, section 4, the parent is the one who determines how to judge mastery of the materials, so if you feel your child is doing well, it will be difficult for a principal to make a case that your child’s progress is unsatisfactory. If parents have been having difficulty, it is to other homeschoolers that they turn for help in improving their program. Many parents get to feeling that they aren’t accomplishing much, but when they start writing their progress report, they discover that their children have indeed grown and learned a great deal. Learning outside of school can take place with so much more effortlessly, especially when the child and his or her interests are leading the way.
§8-12-19 Instructional personnel of home-schooled children. A parent teaching the parent’s child at home shall be deemed a qualified instructor. [Eff Nov 07, 1991] (Auth: HRS §§296-12, 298-9) (Imp: HRS §298-9)
Once upon a time, the parent had to be a college grad to homeschool. Research has proven that degrees don’t matter and now any parent is recognized as able to homeschool.
§8-12-20 Credits. No course credits (Carnegie units) are granted for time spent being home-schooled. [Eff Nov 07, 1991] (Auth: HRS §§296-l2, 298-9 (Imp: HRS §298-9)
These credits are really just chalk-marks adding up to a high school diploma of dubious value. Homeschooled kids go on to get great jobs, have satisfying careers and get into excellent colleges, including Harvard, without any of these credits and credentials.
§8-12-21 High school diploma for home-schooled children. (a) A home-schooled child who wants to earn a high school diploma from the local public high school shall attend high school for a minimum of three full years to meet the twenty credit requirement for graduation. Satisfactory performance on the Hawaii State Test of Essential Competencies (HSTEC) is also required.
Thus, if you want your child to get a diploma from your local high school, you’ll have to enroll him or her at least for three years.
As for the HSTEC, I have to share this with you. I have a sample test that has one or two questions for each of the areas covered by the tests — things such as “Read and use printed materials from daily life….”, “Demonstrate knowledge of the basic structure and functions of national, state and local governments”, “Use computational skills in situations common to everyday life….” and such. School students can take the test many times and only have to pass with a 40% on most of the sections. I gave the sample test (22 questions) to two adults who had done 2 and 3 years of college. One missed 3, one missed 9. Thumper missed two! And those of you who know us know that we have rarely done anything that resembles school.
(b) A home-schooled child who wants to earn a high school diploma from the community school for adults shall meet the following requirements:
(l) Be at least seventeen years of age, the case of emancipated minors;
(2) Has been home-schooled for at least one semester under Hawaii’s home-schooling procedures; and
(3) Takes and achieves a satisfactory score on the General Educational Development (GED) test.
The diploma shall be awarded by the community school for adults. [Eff. Nov 07 1991 (Auth: HRS §§296-12, 298-9) (Imp: HRS §298-9)
There’s a televised GED course with three workbooks that we are using as part of our high school program and it’s excellent for workbook style learning. Call me or the Maui Community School for Adults, 873-3082 for more information on this. Also, Hui Malama (244-5911) does GED preparation for homeschoolers three mornings a week.
§8-12-22 College entrance examination and homeschooled children. A child may participate in any college entrance examination which is made available to all other students. The principal of the local public high school shall, upon request, supply written acknowledgement that a child has been home schooled in compliance with the requirements of this chapter. [Eff. Nov 1991] (Auth: HRS §§296-l2, 298-9) (Imp. HRS §298]
Well, that’s all to it. If you have any remaining questions about the regulations or if you’re having problems with school officials, please feel free to call me at 242-8225.
A hui hou — until we meet again. Gail