Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Don't Homeschool

You read the title correctly. Don't homeschool. I can no longer advocate that you homeschool...at least in the state of Rhode Island. It's too hard, too stressful, too upsetting.

It has nothing to do with my kids or the teaching or the fabulous homeschool group I run. Instead, all of those joys have been stepped on by perceived authority and power from school committees. 

This will be the first in a series of articles on homeschooling. I hope you repost and repost and repost. 

In Rhode Island, homeschoolers report at the local level, meaning each district. And we have 32 districts in the small state. Yes, that is correct, 32. Most districts approve us without difficulty, we submit the required standard letter of intent when we begin homeschooling and wait for our approval letter (if we even receive one as some districts don't even send that). Homeschoolers follow the law each year-in some respects it's pretty easy. The elephant in the room however is the State Statutes which are vague to administrators and very clear to homeschoolers. And to a certain extent, the Department of Education in RI leaves it up to the individual districts to create their own "application" for homeschooling. We'll discuss "application" in the next post.

A post on the ins and outs of state statutes would have to be a series of posts because of the legalities and the explanation needed. For now, let's focus on the homeschoolers. This year in Rhode Island has been a disaster. I have written at least 18 certified letters to school committees speaking out against unlawful policy. I have attend 6 meetings with school superintendents, I have met with homeschoolers regarding unlawful policy too many times to count and have sent 397 emails (yes, I counted them) about policy. 

Let's start with the difficulties and incidents this year. And I name these districts as all of this information is a matter of public knowledge and access.  CHARIHO school district denied a RI homeschooler based on her not providing a grade level or age. That is correct- a grade level or age. They also approved her other child without this information so the inconsistencies were vast. When the homeschooler did submit an age for her child, CHARIHO cut off all contact, did not answer emails or phone calls, and mixed up her 2 children's approvals in committee meetings. They gave false information about this family at committee meetings and denied her homeschool request. Very quickly after her denial letter was sent, a truant officer came to her home, no paperwork, no nothing and promptly filed a truancy petition in family court. This family sought legal counsel and the matter was quickly dropped. The family was finally approved at the next committee meeting in executive session with no apologies, no explanation, no nothing. The parents then returned to the public forum and spoke out in front of 200 people on these mis-steps so that their voice would be heard in hopes that other districts would not follow suit.

Then there was West Warwick where over 30 (or so) families applications were held for months on end as administrators sent letter after letter requesting more information. Each time homeschoolers refused and still more letters came. Again, parents met with administrators, spoke out at the school committee meetings, sought legal counsel and eventually all the homeschoolers were approved.

A Northern district has recently sent a truant officer (twice) to a homeschoolers home after she refused to submit information to them that is not required by law. We are awaiting outcome. 

And then there is the current district we are working in. We spent months with officials speaking out against an unlawful policy. Even pointed out Commissioner of Education rulings on areas of their policy that were beyond the scope of the law. We were hopeful when we were invited to rewrite the policy. And then families homeschool approvals were denied and contact was cut off and we received word that they decided not to change to the policy based on our suggestions. Wow. Just wow.

Where does that leave us. Hmmm-see the next post.

In the mean time, here are some things for administrators and school committees members to think about.

1) School Committees report to the parents. Not vice versa. Let me say that again, School committees report TO THE PARENTS. You are elected officials. That means it is your obligation to follow the law just like homeschoolers are required to. 
2) It is your job to communicate with the public. That means you need to answer your emails, return phone calls and send out notices. You need to sit at a table and really hear the concerns in front of you. 
3) There are 1200 homeschoolers in the state of Rhode Island. If you don't play fair, your district will be noted as such all over the message boards and the media will hear about it. The homeschool network is very strong in RI. What happens in one district is quickly heard throughout the state. There is strength in our numbers.
4) We follow the law, you must too.  You cannot extend Statutes to suit your needs. You cannot go against Commissioner of Education rulings. It's illegal. 
5) Homeschool is not public school. We do not fit in your boxes of attendance and curriculum and learning. 
6) I choose to homeschool because it is my legal right to do so and because it is the best choice for my children. That does not make us "against" public schooling. It makes us committed to education and to our families. Should that not be supported?
7) Sharing your stories of the homeless, unemployed, illiterate, noncompliant homeschoolers that you know really does us no good. While we hear your concern, for as many stories as you tell us about slacker homeschoolers, I could give you 3 more where public school has failed our children, not ALL children, but OUR children. And some choose to homeschool because it is simply one of the many options available to them. The reasons are as vast as the ocean wide. Know the difference. Please leave your personal stories at home and focus on what is required by law. 
8) Don't think for one milli-second that just because you make a policy that we are obligated to follow it. This is perceived authority and power.  Homeschool IS mainstream now. The days of homeschoolers caving in to school committees are long gone.
9) Don't think for one milli-second that we are simply going to accept your unlawful policy as the final say. Homeschoolers know their rights and we fight you every step of the way to maintain and preserve those rights. 
10) Build bridges, not walls. Homeschoolers are not your enemy. Work with us and recognize the commitment that homeschoolers have to their children and to their community.

Next post: Don't Put Me in a Box.


Anonymous said...

Come to Arizona. No problems here with homeschooling.

Heather Estey said...

wow, I dont know whether to pray for you, share encouragement with you and tell you not to give up the fight, or just to read this and pass it on. We homeschool our children, and it was the best decision we ever made, even when dealing with the obnoxious parts....Hope all ends well for each family, and that homeschooling is reaffirmed in your state.
Heather @ The Welcoming House

Jackie Ryan Masek said...

From one SoCal homeschooling mom to another, "You preach it, sister"!

Gina said...

I feel for you. My husbands family is from RI and we at one time looked at moving back but because of their HS laws we couldn't consider it. We now live in MI and have complete freedom. Unfortunately HS's here take it for granted and I pray they wake up so we don't end up where you are. Hang in there....

Me From Maine said...

Phew. Well, I can certainly feel the stress coming through in this post. I want to firstly say that clearly there are some incredibly unfair practices going on in RI that seem targeted to make homeschooling more difficult for families.

I feel that suggesting people not try to homeschool would actually be playing right into their hands. If they are hoping to bully/delay/harrass/etc families into changing their minds about homeschooling, then I would think the last thing homeschoolers would want to do is to give in to that.

I'm so sorry that it is so tough in your state right now. I hope that pressure from your large homeschool community will help make some changes!

Rippyfamily said...

You tell 'em! I wish I was an dedicated & as persistent as you have been. You go girl!

Chris Barnes said...

This sounds like more of a reason to leave that communistic state. There is no way I would have put up with all the crap they are putting you through - I would have either moved, been jailed, or worse...