A Tale of Two Homeschoolers: Of Deadlines and Deficiencies
- Michael Donnelly Director of International Affairs, HSLDA
- 2013 28 Aug
The West Virginia Legislature has not delegated authority to public school superintendents to deny parents the right to homeschool under the “notice option,” but that does not stop some from trying.
This summer, two families in West Virginia were “denied” the right to homeschool because they allegedly “failed” to demonstrate “acceptable progress” in the form of an academic assessment by the statutory deadline of June 30. West Virginia homeschool law does make assessments due by June 30, and HSLDA encourages members to make every effort to comply with this deadline.
However, a missed deadline, even one set by statute, does not necessarily equate denial of a homeschool program. A simple mistake or oversight should not, and does not in our opinion, prevent a person from homeschooling nor does it give authority to superintendents to deny parents the right to homeschool.
One HSLDA member family overlooked the deadline due to a number of significant factors and submitted their notice in August. Instead of a letter from the superintendent requesting the required assessment, the superintendent wrote that he was “denying” their homeschool program, something the statue does not authorize him to do.
Mike Donnelly, HSLDA staff attorney for West Virginia member affairs, coordinated with Christian Home Educators of West Virginia on behalf of this family. He arranged for an end-of-year written narrative from a certified teacher and then wrote a letter to the family’s local public school superintendent.
Donnelly explained that the legislature has only delegated authority to a circuit court to deny a homeschooling program. The law permits the granting of such an order by the court only “upon a showing of clear and convincing evidence that the child will suffer neglect … or that there are other compelling reasons.”
The family appreciated HSLDA’s rapid intervention to defend their rights to homeschool. They wrote: “To thank you doesn’t seem enough to cover what both of you have done to help and guide [us] though all the legal side of this and the ‘hand holding’ with our first homeschooling adventure … HSLDA is truly a Godsend.”
Ordered to Enroll
Another member family received a similar “denial” and an order that they “enroll [their] child into an approved school immediately.”
The student in question had submitted test results with some scores below 50% and others that were slightly lower than the previous year’s scores. Not all students demonstrate their learning achievement on tests. That is why HSLDA encourages members to carefully select the best evaluative tool for each child.
This is particularly important because West Virginia requires homeschoolers to score at or above the 50th percentile on certain standardized tests or to show improvement upon last year’s results in order to demonstrate “acceptable progress.” While this may be an unreasonable requirement (most states that require tests do not require such results: New Hampshire is 40%, Minnesota is 30%, Ohio is 25% and Colorado is 14%), the law does provide alternative options for homeschooling families such as an end-of-year narrative and a review by a certified teacher.
Nevertheless, regardless of the end-of-year assessment requirements, the law does not grant superintendents any authority to either deny a home education program or to require that homeschoolers enroll in an “approved school.” The law does require that students who do not demonstrate “acceptable progress” receive remedial instruction. And after a year of remedial instruction a family may provide additional evidence that appropriate instruction is being provided if remedial instruction isn’t sufficient to improve test scores or other academic measures.
In this case, Donnelly advised the family to obtain a written narrative from a certified teacher and to gather other evidence of quality instruction. He then sent this information to the school district and explained why the district could not deny this family the right to homeschool.
Our member family was delighted and let us know that the school district promptly reversed its position.
“Today I have received a letter from the school board placing [their daughter] on the ‘active homeschool list’ … We are now two weeks in to our school year, and she is thriving,” wrote the mother in an email. “Thank you both so much for the time you invested and for the work that the HSLDA does every day to protect our freedoms.”
HSLDA is privileged to serve our members and defend homeschool freedom in situations like these where school districts overstep their bounds. We all know that freedom isn’t free. It requires constant vigilance and protection. That is what we at HSLDA provide to our many member families. If you or someone you know is not a member of HSLDA, will you consider taking a moment today to join or recommend us? Your support for our work enables us to defend individual families threatened by government officials and protect homeschooling freedom for all.
Courtesy HSLDA. Used with permission.
Staff Attorney Mike Donnelly answers questions and assists members regarding legal issues in West Virginia. He and his wife homeschool in the Mountain State.
Publication date: August 28, 2013