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Attorney Deborah G. Stevenson, Executive Director
Bulletin #61 Private Schools And Homeschools 03/13/08
Did you know? that it is dangerous for homeschoolers to be considered “private schools”?
In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, when people began to call what parents traditionally have done since the beginning of time, “homeschooling”, a certain organization began to advise people that homeschoolers should call themselves a “private school”. The organization encouraged parents in a great many states who wished to homeschool to do so either under existing “private school” statutes, or to otherwise compromise with government officials in having them consider homeschoolers as “private schools.”
Such advice was given to homeschoolers in Connecticut. At first, parents were divided as to the idea. In the end, parents rejected the idea. Parents in Connecticut derive their right from a different statute that mandates that parents “instruct their children” or “cause them to be instructed”. Parents researched the history of that statute and argued that they already had the duty and obligation to educate their own children and need not be considered a private school or anything else. The parents stood by that interpretation, repeated it often, stood up for their rights, and, to date, have maintained their freedom.
In other states, parents chose to accept the advice of that group and considered themselves to be private schools, with or without sufficient backing in law.
NHELD always has rejected the notion that homeschoolers should be considered “private schools” because of the dangers inherent in doing so. The primary danger in being considered a private school is that private schools are regulated by state and federal governments, and those regulations increase over time. For example, state governments typically regulate:
1. the type of building a private school is required to have;
2. the health, fire, and safety measures that the private school must undertake;
3. the age of the children who attend the private school for it to be considered a private school;
4. whether or not it must be a brick and mortar facility to be considered a private school; and
5. whether the private school must be inspected;
Most states have truancy statutes that provide that students who are enrolled in a public or a private school that have a certain number of unexcused absences shall be considered truant. Students who have been reported as truant from private schools also become subject to the state’s statutes regarding penalties for the truancy, including child protective actions and juvenile court proceedings.
Some states have “approval” processes for private schools, whether they are voluntary or mandatory “approval” processes.
Some states also have adopted statutes that mandate the teaching of certain courses in private schools, such as health, or civics.
The federal government also regulates private schools. For example, under No Child Left Behind, there are certain provisions that private schools must comply with in order to obtain federal funding. Private schools also are required to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, or IDEA, the federal special education statute. Under IDEA, private schools must comply with all sorts of rules, and be subject to the provision of Individual Education Programs, IEPs, for children enrolled in the private school that are developed and overseen by the local public school. In addition, states have adopted their own special education statutes that apply to private schools. Private schools also must comply with Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a statute that compels the private schools to put in place accommodation plans for the disabled.
State and federal regulations have encroached upon the freedom of private schools to such an extent today that it is difficult sometimes to discern where the “freedom” still remains in private schools.
The danger is that because the state and federal government already have laws on the books “regulating” private schools, by parents asserting that they, too, are private schools, to a certain extent, parents who may otherwise be free of government regulation, voluntarily submit to already existing regulation and make it that much easier for the government to impose still more regulation.
The parents in some states recognized this early on, while the parents in other states did not. The parents in some states that consider themselves to be “private schools” may be perfectly content in doing so. NHELD believes the parents in each state should choose to do as they desire. We simply want parents to recognize the choices that they make may have unintended consequences.
Such is the situation in California today. Some parents in California chose to be considered “private schools”, and for a while, that interpretation of the law was accepted by government officials. Now, however, a court has applied the facts of one family’s homeschooling to the actual letter of the existing law. That law requires parents who “tutor” their children to be credentialed, and apparently requires “private schools” to be full time “schools” rather than individual instruction in a parent’s home. While the actual court decision is only binding on the parties involved, parents in California are recognizing that the law actually does not specify that individual parents may be considered “private schools”, thus calling into question their status as homeschoolers under the “private school” law.
Whether or not it was a good idea for the parents in California to call themselves “private schools”, since they seem to have widespread public support for their ability to continue to homeschool, parents in California have a unique opportunity to change the law to enable them to homeschool as individual parents in freedom.
Parents in other states can look to California’s experience and use it to their advantage to take the time to research what their statutes say, to determine whether their laws actually allow them to be considered “private schools”, and whether being considered a “private school” is beneficial, or whether they, too, may face dangers in the future.
With knowledge, we can retain our freedom. Now is the time to arm yourself with that knowledge.
For additional discussion about parental instruction of children in freedom, autonomously, without government interference please also see our essay about Sovereign Parental Instruction - http://www.nheld.com/sovereign.htm
Judy Aron - Director of Research, NHELD – firstname.lastname@example.org