In March I reported the distressing news that the NY State Board of Regents had announced public special-education services such as speech therapy and occupational therapy would no longer be available to homeschooled students. Private school students, they ruled, would continue to qualify, but not homeschoolers.
Well, it looks like common sense has prevailed. Today the New York State Senate passed a bill reinstating these services to homeschooled children. The Assembly passed the companion bill on Monday. Now all that remains is the governor’s signature.
This is great news. These are public services available through the public schools which ought to be available to all children, not just those enrolled in the schools. Working with the school district to receive these services is not always an easy task, but for some families, for some children, it’s a vitally important option.
I wrote a fair amount at The Lilting House about my family’s (sometimes rocky) experiences with receiving speech therapy and audiology services from our school district for our hard-of-hearing son. I had to learn a lot about navigating the IEP process, and some of the lessons came at a price. (You may recall the one IEP meeting where I was sandbagged by “the team” and had to fight hard to persuade them to agree to what I knew to be the best course of action for my son.) This past year we’ve been very pleased with the way things have worked, and I couldn’t be happier with our current speech therapist and the district’s awesome audiologist.
And not having to drive up to the children’s hospital for these services (where Wonderboy already sees eleven different specialists on a regular basis, and NEVER on the same day) has made a huge practical difference in my family’s quality of life. I run him over to a local elementary school for speech therapy, hearing tests, new ear molds, and such. All these services and supplies (including hearing aid batteries, which aren’t cheap) are provided free of charge by the school district—just as they are, here in California, for every child in the district, whether public-schooled, private-schooled, or homeschooled. Our tax dollars are helping fund these programs.
One of the potential pitfalls we’ve skirted is that once your kid is in, it can be hard to get him out if you decide the services in question are not a good fit, after all. Here in CA, Wonderboy is stuck in the system until he reaches legal kindergarten age. He misses the cutoff for next fall by one week, and ordinarily I’d have been delighted about that: no need to fool with paperwork for him for an extra year. (Not that there’s much paperwork to fool with, here in sunny Cal.) But if I wanted to back out of district-provided services and seek them through the medical venue instead, I’d have a devilish time doing so until he reaches kindy age. At that point, I can simply “enroll” him in our family’s private school (since that’s the option I homeschool under, the private-school provision) and decline any or all district services I might wish to disengage from.
We’re quite satisfied with our current level and quality of service, and I’m content to maintain the status quo next year. But the libertarian in me (Scott says he notices an increasingly large streak, year after year) bristles at being bound to any status quo where my own child is concerned.
But I bristle even more at the notion of services being denied to some children for arbitary or prejudiced reasons, which seemed for a while to be the direction NY was headed. Bravo to the legislature for letting justice prevail. Now sign that baby, Governor.
I kept wanting to write a real post about this topic, but I got busy. I’ve been fielding a lot of questions offline, though, from concerned friends.By now I think most people have heard the background of the appellate court ruling that addresses the legality of homeschooling in California, but there is a lot of hyperbole and misinformation swirling around out there. There is cause for concern, but not panic. No laws have been changed. This court’s interpretation of state education statutes is dramatically different from the interpretation applied by thousands of homeschooling families for many years, in cooperation with the state Department of Education.
The case involves a family in which the father is accused of abusing the children. In the lower court, the children’s representatives sought a ruling that would require the family to put the children in school. The lower court ruled against this because of, according to the appellate court’s published ruling (link opens a PDF), “its belief that parents have a constitutional right to school their children in their own home.”
The children’s representatives appealed the case. The appellate court disagreed with the trial court’s interpretation of the law.
California courts have held that under provisions in the Education Code, parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children….It is clear to us that enrollment and attendance in a public full-time day school is required by California law for minor children unless (1) the child is enrolled in a private full-time day school and actually attends that school, (2) the child is tutored by a person holding a valid state teaching credential for the grade being taught, or (3) one of the other few statutory exemptions to compulsory public school attendance (Ed. Code 48220 et seq) applies to the child.
Let’s come back in a minute and look in more depth at those “other few statutory exemptions” and the private-school option. But first some general words about the issue. It is the opinion of the appeals court that this family did not meet any of the conditions quoted above. As this court interprets the law (and it is important to note that the court based much of its opinion upon a 1953 court case, which is to say a case that predated the movement for freedom to homeschool by decades), no parents currently homeschooling under the “register as a private school” option are in compliance with state law unless the parent holds a “valid teaching credential for the grade being taught.”
The court’s interpretation of how families can work with Independent Study Programs (ISPs) also differs dramatically from the common understanding held and applied by hundreds (thousands? I don’t know the stats) of families across the state.
That’s why this case has caused such a furor. The appellate court’s ruling speaks not just to the situation of this particular family (and by all accounts it is a bad situation), but it makes a broad statement which would seem to apply to a huge number of families across the state who have been happily homeschooling with a good-faith understanding that we are in compliance with state law.
But there is no need to panic. The HomeSchool Association of California and the other state homeschooling associations (I’ll add links later) are working together with excellent legal representation to make sure the rights of parents to educate their children as they see fit are protected.
The best option appears to be petitioning the court to have the ruling “depublished” so that it is binding only for the family in the specific case but would be removed from public record.
The California Homeschool Network blog reports:
CHN and HSC are in contact with law firms who are interested in helping defend our freedoms in California. Because HSLDA has members in CA, they are also doing the same. Individual briefs will likely be written, and requests to “depublish” the report will be submitted. If the depublish requests are successful, it would be removed from public record, and would not be cited against homeschoolers. We think there’s an excellent chance that it will be successful, but if not, we’ll continue to defend homeschooling in other ways. All groups are opposed to legislation, unless there is no other option.
You may have heard that HSLDA is circulating a petition for people to sign in support of depublishing the ruling. While I hope the depublish request is successful, I do not encourage the signing of this petition, for reasons well articulated by homeschooling advocate and watchdog Larry Kaseman in his letter to Wisconsin parents:
HSLDA has gotten involved and is circulating and strongly urging people to sign a petition addressed to the California Supreme Court. WPA suggests that homeschoolers NOT sign the petition for several reasons, including the following:
– The major California homeschooling organizations, including those that are religiously based, have not called for signing the petition. In fact, there is concern about possible backlash if lots of people contact the court. WPA has consistently argued that homeschooling issues in a given state should be addressed by homeschoolers in that state and has opposed intervention by “outside experts.”
– Because HSLDA is not a party to the case, it does not have the authority to submit the petition and signatures to the California Supreme Court.
– HSLDA has a history of inserting itself into highly visible court cases. When the cases have been decided in favor of homeschoolers, HSLDA has tended to take undue credit. Many more of the cases have led either to a decision that limits or undermines homeschooling freedoms or one that leads to legislation that regulates homeschooling strongly and unnecessarily.
I heartily second the concerns about HSLDA’s involvement. As I said on Maureen Wittman’s blog, I would advise anyone to do a great deal of digging and research about the things HSLDA lobbies for before making a decision whether to give them money and support. This organization’s push for writing homeschooling into federal legislation could, many people believe, wind up having negative ramifications for all homeschoolers down the road.
As for all of us California homeschoolers, life is going on as usual for now. There was a flurry of panic last week, much of it fueled by the alarmist rhetoric of a WorldNetDaily article.
There is no reason to panic, but it is important to stay informed. Read the court documents and follow the updates at CHN.
One thing this case ought to do for all of us in this country, homeschooling parents or not, is provoke serious thought about exactly what compulsory education is and why we, as a nation, have written it into our laws. Do you know the history behind compulsory education? Do you know what your state laws are, and how they are enforced?
I’m glad to be a California homeschooler right now. I don’t think there’s going to be a fight, but if there is—if citizens are faced with defending their rights to make decisions about their children’s education—I want to do my part. For nearly a decade now I have been enjoying the freedom secured by parents who came before me, parents who fought hard to protect their right to educate their children at home.
I have lots more to add here, including links to other coverage and a look at the California Education Code, but my time is up for now. More later.
Good info at HSC.org.
I meant to blog about this last week but need more time to do some research. I haven’t lived in New York for six years and am not totally up to date on the education regulations there any more. But this recent development shocked me and it most definitely needs to be talked about.
So I was glad to see that my college classmate Andrea has posted a letter to Governor Spitzer addressing her concerns about the NY Board of Regents and Department of Education’s reinterpretation of the federal IDEA law. Their recent ruling, if you haven’t heard, will deny free, public-school-provided special services like speech therapy and OT to homeschooled children in New York State. These services will continue to be available to children enrolled in public and private schools.
These special services are paid for by the taxpayers. In other states, the public schools are required to provide the same special services to homeschooled and private-schooled children as they do to public-school students. Federal law mandates this. It is under this law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, that Wonderboy is able to receive necessary speech therapy and audiology services through our local school district, even though we are officially registered as a private school under California education regulation.
Andrea speaks eloquently to the importance of such services:
I am not a zealot. I am a concerned parent who, at great personal and
financial sacrifice, is trying to provide her two, exceptional children
with the tools needed to become life-long learners and independent,
creative problem-solvers capable of living their lives to the fullest
their capabilities allow…This
act by the NYS Ed. Dept. (revoking services to home schooled IEP kids)
feels like a slap in the face for families whose financial and emotional resources are already spread thin to breaking.
Andrea suspects that the policy change has more to do with funding problems than anything else. No matter what the cause, it is hard to believe that the state would choose to interpret the federal law in a manner that excludes homeschoolers but includes privately schooled children. This is stunningly inconsistent.