Officials from a public school district persistently harassed a homeschool family that recently moved to New York in the middle of the school year – despite the fact that the parents previously submitted the required notice of intent to educate their children from home as required by state law.
The additional information that was immediately demanded by the Williamsville Central School District (WCSD) was reportedly not mandated by New York law.
“[District officials] told the family that they had to register their children within the school district before being permitted to homeschool,” the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) reported. “A few months later, they requested additional information with the intent of entering the children into a central identification system.”
Educating school officials
After being contacted, HSLDA attorneys informed WCSD officials via a letter that homeschool children – especially those who have no intention of enrolling as public school students – are not required to register in the district.
“[N]early two months later, the family received a second letter stating that the district needed proof of residency and each child’s date of birth ‘in order to enter them into our student system,’” HSLDA Staff Attorney Tj Schmidt explained. “In the letter, Williamsville officials went on to say that the birthdates were required ‘to enter your students in the New York State Repository as students in our district receiving instruction through home schooling.’”
At the end of the district’s letter, the parents were warned that the WCSL Student Services Coordinator would be forced to conduct a home investigation if they did not submit the information it demanded within 10 days.
HSLDA attorneys proceeded to send the district a follow-up letter notifying WCSD officials that homeschool students are not required to conform to the guidelines of the New York State Student Identification System – a system by which only public school student must fully comply.
Once school officials received HSLDA’s second letter, the attorney for the WCSD called the Christian legal group directly.
“Instead of phoning our offices in Virginia, however, he called one of our local associated attorneys in New York,” HSLDA informed. “In this phone call, the district’s attorney requested that the member family provide proof of residency and proof of age to ‘ensure that the children had age appropriate curriculum’ in their homeschool program.”
In disbelief over the district’s insistence, Schmidt immediately returned the attorney’ call.
“During our phone conversation, I informed the district’s attorney that parents – not public school officials – control their children’s education program when teaching them at home,” the homeschool legal expert recounted. “I pointed out that under New York law the parent determines the child’s grade level and is only required to inform the school district of the syllabi, curriculum materials, textbooks or plan of instruction in the required subject.”
He also made a few other things clear to the public school attorney that he should have known in the first place.
“I also informed the attorney that the New York State Education Department had made it clear that the review of the materials that the parent submits in the individualized home instruction plan (IHIP) is only to verify that the required subjects are being taught,” Schmidt continued. “School officials do not have any authority over the curriculum materials that will be used or grade level that will be taught.”
In order to not cause any more waves with the school district, the home school parents provided information to the district that should not have been demanded. After this last submission to the district, HSLDA is confident that WCSD will stop its unwarranted harassment of the family.
“The family decided to show proof of residency as a sign of good faith, even though they had received each of the district’s letters sent to their home,” Schmidt concluded. “We anticipate this will resolve the issue and the district will accept all of the required documents the family must submit.”
Not the first time in NY
The aforementioned problems the Williamsville homeschool family experienced with public school officials was by no means an isolated occurrence in the Empire State.
It was reported earlier this month that a number of families that homeschool their children within the Mount Vernon City School District (MVCSD) were unnecessarily harassed because district officials did not keep their records current.
Even though one of the families had homeschooled their children in Mount Vernon for nearly a decade, they received the following warning from the district:
“We have no prior records that you are homeschooling,” MVCSD notified the home educators.
HSLDA quickly got involved because public school officials in New York state are notorious for causing homeschoolers major problems if they do not comply with their every demand.
“M]issing paperwork can escalate into serious headaches for homeschooling families,” HSLDA stated earlier this month when reporting a separate incident in the state. “Public school officials in some New York counties consider missing homeschool records as sufficient cause for asking social workers to investigate.”
After one of the families was able to clear up the district’s error, another problem surfaced.
“In September, the family received a letter from the director of student services stating that their IHIP was in compliance,” the homeschool legal group reported. “But after they submitted their first quarter report in November, they too received an ominous letter claiming that the district had no record of them homeschooling their son, despite the fact that previously the director had twice confirmed receipt of their paperwork.”
The family was then accused of engaging in unlawful activity by continuing to educate their own, but the district was proven to be in the wrong – again.
“The director’s initial reply to me simply repeated the claim that no record of homeschooling existed for either family,” Schmidt recounted. “The director further stated that one family was failing to comply with state law. I countered with copies of the director’s previous letters confirming receipt of the family’s documents, along with copies of the documents themselves.”
The school official soon conceded that the district had come to an errant conclusion that had caused the homeschool family undue stress.
“The director wrote back shortly afterward and sheepishly admitted that there ‘was much renovation going on’ at the board of education office and that homeschool records must ‘have been misplaced or lost in the shuffle,’” Schmidt announced.
School districts in New York are not unlike many other districts across the nation that express unwarranted concern that children are not receiving the quality of education that students receive in public schools.
But such assumptions have been proven to not only be prejudiced, but grossly inaccurate – especially when looking at the Scholastic Aptitude Test scores of homeschool students compared to publicly schooled children.
“The SAT 2014 test scores of college-bound homeschool students were higher than the national average of all college-bound seniors that same year,” the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) divulged.
Across the disciplines, homeschooled children scored considerably higher than the average student in America that attends public school (approximately 88 percent of school children) and those who attend conventional private schools (approximately 10 percent).
“Some 13,549 homeschool seniors had the following mean scores: 567 in critical reading, 521 in mathematics and 535 in writing (College Board, 2014a),” NHERI President Brian D. Ray reported. “The mean SAT scores for all college-bound seniors in 2014 were 497 in critical reading, 513 in mathematics, and 487 in writing (College Board, 2014b). The homeschool students’ SAT scores were 0.61 standard deviation higher in reading, 0.26 standard deviation higher in mathematics, and 0.42 standard deviation higher in writing than those of all college-bound seniors taking the SAT, and these are notably large differences.”
Other nationwide surveys conducted over the past couple of decades also demonstrate that homeschooled children at every age and from every socioeconomic level score markedly higher on standardized tests than their conventionally schooled counterparts.