Avoid Legal Quagmires – And Know Who to Call If You Ever Find Yourself in Trouble

Make key legal mistakes, and the state could snatch away your children.

A Texas family was faithfully homeschooling their five biological children and three adopted children. Yet when their four-year-old autistic foster child wandered a short ways from home, Child Protective Services got involved.

A case worker decided that “nobody in their right mind would want to stay home all day with so many children,” and took their children away from them.

Thus began their fight to reclaim their children.

The Texas Home School Coalition says the state acted totally out of line. And I agree… they did. The children were finally returned home.

There’s no telling how aggressive Child Protective Services or any government agency will get. They’re not known for being gentle and kind. This family hadn’t even done anything illegal. But you never want to make matters worse by running afoul of the law.

If the state investigated your compliance with homeschool laws, would you be above reproach?

 

How we got the laws we have today…

Almost 2 million children are homeschooled in the United States today, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics report.

That number grows 7 to 15 percent each year.

This resurgence is fairly recent though. Homeschooling has only been legal in all 50 states since 1996.

In 1852, Massachusetts passed the first law requiring students to attend either public or private school. By 1918, all states had passed similar laws.

 

Staying out of harm’s way (as much as possible)

Since re-claiming their right to learn at home, homeschoolers have certainly proven themselves.

Most 1st- to 4th-grade homeschoolers perform one full grade level above their public and private school counterparts. And the average 8th-grade homeschooler performs four grade levels above the national average.

How can you help your children achieve the same success?

Keep these six steps in mind as you homeschool.

 

Step 1: Learn from the experts.

Your first challenge is learning all the rules and regulations.

The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) helps parents navigate their state’s requirements. Their website (www.hslda.org) contains valuable resources to help you establish your homeschool … legally.

Every state allows homeschooling, but the rules and regulations differ wildly.

California requires you to register as a private school and fulfill several other mandates. Technically, they have no “homeschooling” option available, since every homeschool is a “private school.”

Pennsylvania requires your children to take standardized tests after third, fifth, and eighth grade. Other states require parents to officially withdraw their children from the public school’s roster.

Find your state’s requirements at www.hslda.org/hs/default.asp.

Do your best to fly under the radar.

If your state’s law doesn’t require you to report your homeschool, don’t.

Some states require you to report your children’s progress or test scores to the school district. Others do not.

Only keep the district informed if required to do so.

 

Step 2: Connect with your local homeschool community.

Strength comes from community.

Find your local homeschool support group by searching Google for “your state’s name” plus “homeschool support group” or “home educators association.”

This group knows the local laws. They can help you jump through any hoops.

They also know about educational discounts at local museums, theaters, parks, and more.

 

Step 3: Keep a low profile, train your children to behave well in public, and be above reproach in educating your children.

Back in the early days of homeschooling, long before it was “legal” in all 50 states, we used to homeschool with the drapes drawn. And we never went out during “school hours” because we knew we’d be asked why our children weren’t in school.

While homeschooling has become much more “acceptable” since then, our freedoms are being eroded every day in many ways, so it behooves us all not to presume that we’ll always have the same situation we have today.

I believe some of the principles we lived by in those early days of the homeschooling movement are still applicable today.

While it no longer seems necessary to close your drapes so no one can see into your home, it’s probably still smart to keep a low profile. If you can run your errands after 3 pm or on weekends instead of during the school day, do so.

The exception would be attending a home school co-op or lessons. But those people are probably on the same page as you in regards to homeschooling.

More importantly, train your children how to behave in public. You’re far less likely to become a target of homeschooling hostility if your kids are well-behaved. Do some role playing at home about how to act when you’re out in public. Practice it till they follow the principles instinctively.

Finally, don’t be the person who makes a bad name for all homeschoolers. I’m preaching to the choir here, because you wouldn’t even be reading this if you weren’t serious about your role in your children’s education.

Unfortunately, however, there are people who use “homeschooling” as an excuse for doing nothing. And they ruin things for the rest of us.

When my third son was in high school, about six weeks into his senior year, I realized that I was totally unequipped to teach him chemistry, physics, and pre-calculus. (This was before online classes were available.) So I went to enroll him in the public school for those three classes.

The second day my son was there, he came around the corner in the hallway and overheard his physics/chemistry teacher complaining about the fact that he had a “homeschooler” in his class who was going to be a real pain and drag the whole class down.

When he told me this, I responded with, “Well, just prove him wrong.”

So about two weeks later, with great curiosity and a bit of fear, I attended the parent-teacher conference.

In the interim, my son had not only caught up on six weeks of study, but had the highest grade in one class, and the second highest in the other.

Curiously, this teacher, who had bashed having a homeschooler in his class, was extremely pleasant to me and complimentary of how I’d prepared him. Then he went on to say that his negative impressions of homeschooling were formulated from hearing about people who lived out in rural areas and just let their kids run wild, rather than actually teaching them.

Well, you know what they say about a “few bad apples.” Treat your home schooling like a business, or a job, or however you need to think of it to give it the serious attention it deserves.

Being above reproach in your efforts can help keep you out of trouble.

 

Step 4: Keep records.

Each states requires a certain number of “school days” each year. Plan ahead to make sure you fit them all in between family vacations and other activities. Otherwise, your school year may extend into July or August, whether you wanted to continue through the summer or not.

Keep record of schooldays, even if your state doesn’t require a certain number of days. It’s good “insurance” and can be as simple as marking the letter “S” on your family calendar for “School.”

Your calendar can change, of course. But scheduling helps you plan your initial structure.

Starting your homeschool at the beginning of a new academic year works best.

But if you start homeschooling in the middle of the school year, pull your children out of public school right after a long break – like Christmas or Spring Break – to avoid undue attention. And be as discrete as possible about it.

 

Step 5: Know what tests your state requires – and plan ahead.

Your state may require certain tests or reports on your children’s progress.

While you may know your child’s strengths and weaknesses, some states want to know too. Not that I’m in agreement with that (your children are not “wards of the state”) but don’t attract trouble by sidestepping the law.

The three most common testing methods are 1) standardized testing, 2) evaluations, and 3) portfolios.

Standardized Testing

These are the fill-in-the-bubble tests you may remember from childhood.

If your state requires standardized tests, learn the deadlines early. You’ll need to order, administer, score, and submit the tests before the deadline. If you need to send the tests to a professional grader, double check grading turn-around times.

Find out which tests your state requires. Some states only require language arts and math. Others add science or history. Test subjects can also change depending on your child’s grade level.

Remind your children that standardized tests purposely include questions that are too easy for them and too hard for them. They won’t know some questions … that’s on purpose, and it’s okay. Help them de-stress, and avoid putting undue pressure on them to perform. They’ll do far better if they’re relaxed.

Evaluations

Evaluations work well for young children, children who don’t read well or quickly, children with learning challenges, and children easily overwhelmed by testing.

In an evaluation, children sit and talk with a certified teacher or other educational professional.

Before choosing an evaluator, ask if they work with your school district regularly. The superintendent approves the evaluator’s report, so you want to make sure the superintendent trusts your evaluator.

Ask what criteria the evaluator plans to use so you can prepare your child.

Portfolios

Some states allow you to submit a portfolio and parent’s report to the superintendent for approval.

Portfolios are simply scrapbooks or collections of highlights from your school year.

Your portfolio may include:

  • Chronological samples of your child’s work throughout the year
  • Photos of your child doing school work, field trips, and extracurricular activities
  • Your child’s reading log – including fiction and nonfiction books
  • A list or description of projects and achievements

Try to find a lesson-planning book that includes portfolio directions and compile it throughout the year, so you don’t have to scramble at the end of the year.

 

Step 6: Join the HSLDA.

The Home School Legal Defense Association is a nonprofit advocacy organization that purposes to defend and advance your constitutional right to direct your children’s education and protect your family’s freedoms.

They fight conflicts with state or local officials over homeschooling and protect members against government intrusion. They advocate on Capitol Hill, in state legislatures, and in the media – by tracking legislation affecting homeschooling and parental rights and acting as knowledgeable spokesmen to the press on the subject of homeschooling.

In addition, the HSLDA can help you understand the homeschool laws in your state.

And they have attorneys on call 24/7 to support your right to homeschool and answer questions… and solve problems. Who else are you going to call if a Child Protective Services agent comes knocking on your door?

It’s more than worth the cost to become a member of the HSLDA, just for the peace of mind it offers you and your family. Plus, it helps advance the cause of homeschool freedom and parental rights!

Click here to join today: http://hslda.org/a/5558875.

There simply is no other legal defense organization for homeschoolers with the credibility and longevity of the HSLDA.

Your journey through homeschooling will be far easier without legal hassles – and the HSLDA has worked tirelessly to relieve those kinds of stressors on families.

Just so you know, if you become a member, the HSLDA will give a small portion of your membership fee back to For Homeschool Moms Only, to help us recover some of the costs of maintaining this website and newsletter. Even then, know that we will never promote anything that we do not completely endorse; if we recommend a product or service to you, it means we’re convinced of its overriding merits for you and your family. Gaining and keeping your trust is of utmost value to us.

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