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Pa. Reporting Requirements for Home-Schoolers Upheld

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Pennsylvania's record-keeping requirements for home-schoolers do not violate families' free-exercise-of-religion rights under the U.S. Constitution, a federal appeals court ruled today.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, in Philadelphia, unanimously rejected a First Amendment challenge by six home-schooling families who argued that the requirements infringe on their sincerely held Christian religious beliefs.

Under state law, parents who home school their children must provide instruction for a minimum number of days and hours in certain subjects and must submit a portfolio of teaching logs and the children’s work product for review by the local school district. The families had sought exemptions to the reporting requirements, saying they interfered with parental control of their children's education.

In its opinion in Combs v. Homer-Center School District, the court said parents have a general right to control the education of their children, but they "do not have a constitutional right to avoid reasonable state regulation of their children’s education. [The state law's] reporting and superintendent-review requirements ensure children taught in home education programs demonstrate progress in the educational program."

The court did remand the case to the state courts for consideration of whether the reporting requirements conflict with a state law known as the Religious Freedom Protection Act.

6 Comments

Our kids left school during their high school years to home school. They were strongly motivated to pursue areas of interest which did not match with the standard curriculum of English, Social Studies, Math & Science mandated by our state (California) to be taught in public schools.

As a parent, and an American citizen, I disagree with the Pennsylvania state court decision and agree with the Christian Homeschooling families that the First Amendment protects us from government mandating what we say to our youth about about the world we live in.

I support laws and government monitoring (through social service agencies) of parents (and all adults that interact with youth) to facilitate prevention of abuse and neglect of youth. But I believe that our government only has the power to suggest, and not mandate what we say to, including what we teach to, our kids; or mandate what they must learn on their own.

Suggesting versus mandating is a critical distinction! From my experience growing up, and as an adult watching my kids and many of their colleagues grow up, I have come to agree with John Holt that learning is a process within a person, not something that can be forced upon a person.

We are blessed to live in California, a state where the people and their representatives have been wise enough, at least up to now, to have minimal regulation of homeschooling. Our kids and 100,000 others across the state have been benificiaries of that wisdom.

While a superintendent in Illinois, I had a parent who wanted their sixth grade student out of special education. The student was eligible by federal law and as such we developed an IEP. The parents then responded that they were going to home school him. Both parents worked the day shift. Instead of any course of study, the student wondered the town all day. The school district had to pass a policy banning any non school personnel from being on the playground while school was in session as the student was spending all day on our playground.
In Illinois, the district had no recourse. Even the Regional superintendent had no authority to enforce any minimum educational effort. The states attorney said he could do nothing. This type of abuse must be stopped.

Sam's story is a perfect illustration in my mind where it is appropriate for the community to step in when there is a situation of neglect. Providing supervision for an 11 or 12 year old wandering the streets is far different than mandating that every homeschooled kid learn geometry.

Sam's story is a perfect illustration in my mind where it is appropriate for the community to step in when there is a situation of neglect. Providing supervision for an 11 or 12 year old wandering the streets is far different than mandating that every homeschooled kid learn geometry.

The real question here is whether home schooling prepares students for college. I spent twenty-five years teaching history in college and never asked students about their preparation. Is there any solid research to support the notion that home schooling does not adequately prepare a child for college, viz that home schooled children flunk out at significantly higher rates than others? If there isn't I really don't see how a court can require the parents of home schooled children to present lesson plans and portfolios that are not also required of all teachers and students in the same school district.

"The school district had to pass a policy banning any non school personnel from being on the playground while school was in session as the student was spending all day on our playground."

This is such a good example of a total breakdown in the relationship between school and parents. Parents may in fact have valid reasons for wanting their kid "out of special ed," particularly if being "in special ed" means out of the regular classroom and labelled as being a deficit, a drag on the "regular" kids, the ones who "really want to learn," or "belong" in a regular classroom.

I have never met a parent who doesn't really want their kid to learn, to learn well, and to have access to all that is best for them. I have frequently heard from teachers that not every child can learn, that some cannot "reach" the bar or that they don't want to be held accountable for the learning of all kids--especially those who "qualify for services."

I have a hard time believing that eductional neglect is not something that the local children's services board would be willing to look into. This would mean moving outside of the educational hierarchy--and I don't think it would be anything close to an ideal solution, but it would certainly provide an alternative. The school might have been able to work through a social worker to try to fix their problem with the parents at that point.

Another alternative would have been for the school to think about what the parents were objecting to about "special education," and why the district was so unwilling to let this kid "out," particularly given the consequences. Did the school honestly have a full continuum of placements to guarantee that students receive services in the least restrictive environment--or was the environment (that is the "resource room") pretty much the service that they were willing to offer. How many adults would have to change their opinions about the ways in which special educational services are delivered (and what they are) in order to serve this child--and other sixth graders who are not eager to walk around school with a "special" label on their back? How well are the "special" kids doing at that school--succeeding right along with the rest? or just waiting for an end to No Child Left Behind so that their scores don't count any more?

The school didn't "have" to pass a policy banning any non-school personnel from the grounds during the day. This was a choice made by thinking adults who should have known better. The kid was offering you the opportunity to try again to have a respectful relationship with the family and to provide education. What the district preferred to do was to make the problem go away.

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