Kindergarten Changes in NYS – Part 2

Here’s a paradox: those whose children aren’t yet of compulsory school age may find it harder to take them out of a public school than those whose children are. At least, that’s what PAHSI (Partnership for Accurate Homeschooling Information) has observed in New York City (NYC) over the years. And this oddity will have new wrinkles in 2013-14. 

In Part 1 of this blog post (on 02/24/2013), we described what’s in the offing for 2013-14, when new state legislation on “mandatory kindergarten” in NYC and Rochester goes into effect. (Also in Part 1, we quoted from a section in NYC’s Regulations of the Chancellor that has been updated, but we still don’t have any information on how Rochester is going to implement the changes.)

In this part of the blog post (Part 2), we want to talk about what we like to call the Kindergarten Paradox (but may soon have to start calling the Pre-K Paradox). We also (it’s related to the paradox) want to address why some of NYC’s regulations and other documents will need more updating before September.

Let’s start with what happens when parents ask us for help in getting their kids out of a NYC public school if they are in fact of compulsory school age.

Some parents need help because the school insists that they first have to get “approval” or “permission” to homeschool, or even that they have to come in for a meeting.

This is wrong. As PAHSI director Elsa Haas put it in point #12 of the document “How the Homeschool Regulations Really Work” (available in full on www.pahsi.net by clicking on “About NYS Regulations”):

#12. Parents can take their children out of school to begin homeschooling at any time – they don’t have to wait until the end of a semester, the start of a new school year, or even the end of the day – though parents whose children already have “excessive absences” on their school record may be wise to proceed with some caution. (See C. R. 100.10-b-1 and 2. Also see NYSED Q. and A. #67, #68 and #69. See also #17, below.)

Here are some pointers in case those references in parentheses look unfamiliar. “C.R. 100.10” is short for “Part 100.10 of the Commissioner’s Regulations” (the Commissioner of Education of New York State, that is). The Part 100.10 thing (also known as the New York State Regulations on Home Instruction) and the NYSED (New York State Education Department) “Q. and A. on Home Instruction” can both be found (on the NYSED website) by going through the links in Points #1 and #2 of “How the Homeschool Regulations Really Work”.

But you can just read on if you want. Point #17 in this same document says:

#17. Parents have fourteen days after they begin homeschooling to send in a letter of intent – that is, the first step is normally to begin homeschooling, and the next step is to inform the authorities of your decision. (See the same references as for #12, above.)

This is especially important for those parents who take their children out of school, since sometimes a decision to homeschool is made only after a period spent considering other options, such as transferring to a different school or moving to a different location.

Some public (government-run) schools incorrectly insist that parents are not allowed to remove their children from the school until they “get permission” (as noted in #6, above, no permission is required); until all the paperwork is processed; or, in places like New York City, where homeschooled kids are entered into the same computer system as the public school kids, until the computer code is changed to the one for homeschooling (444). However, a parent who knows what the Regulations really require can generally stop truancy officers at the door with the letter of intent, and can later insist that any inaccurate “absences” from school be erased from the record. (But see #12, above, if your child already has “excessive absences” on record before beginning homeschooling.)

While it can be aggravating when public school personnel don’t know the proper procedure, it’s easy enough for us to advise the parents to send a “letter of intent” to homeschool to the New York City Central Office of Home Schooling (that is, Homeschooling); to cite the New York State Regulations on Home Instruction and the NYSED’s “Q. and A. on Home Instruction” to the school; and to make sure that the computer code for homeschooling (444) is entered.

It can help if the parent has the password to access the child’s ARIS ParentLink records so that s/he can confirm that the code has been changed. (We’ll write in a future blog post about how PAHSI secured this access for homeschoolers.)

If all this happens as it should, the parents will stop getting letters, phone calls, or robo-calls from the school, or visits from “attendance teachers”. Then the only thing that remains is to make sure that any absences that have improperly accumulated after the parent started homeschooling and before the code was changed are deleted (if the parent cares about that).

If the school insists that the parent come in for a meeting to discuss the parent’s decision to remove the child, we can advise the parent to ask the school where in the NYS Regulations on Home Instruction it says that s/he has to come in for a meeting.

Or we can just suggest that the parent send the school question #2 in the NYSED’s “Q. and A.”, which reads: “Are parents required to meet with school officials? No. School officials may request a meeting with parents to discuss the process of home schooling, but they may not deny parents the right to home instruct if the parents decline such a meeting.”

Experienced homeschoolers often advise new ones not to go in for such a meeting unless they really want to hear what the school has to say. If you’ve already made your decision, there’s no point in subjecting yourself to the school’s talk about why you shouldn’t homeschool (assuming that’s why the school wants the meeting – not all school staff are negative about homeschooling, and some are even encouraging).

If you go to the current version of A-240 (Reasons for Discharging Students) in the NYC Regulations of the Chancellor (A-240 hasn’t been updated since 09/05/2000), you’ll see eighteen possible “Reasons for Discharge”, including this one:

1.6 Students may be discharged for home schooling by non-Board of Education personnel, in accordance with State law and with the approval of the appropriate community school district, high school or District 75 superintendent.

It’s paragraph 1.6 that applies if the child is of compulsory school age and the parent will be filing homeschool paperwork with the NYC Central Office of Home Schooling. (The corresponding discharge code is “00”, and the “school code” is “444” – that’s the code someone came up with to represent homeschooling in a computer system that was designed to admit three-digit public school codes.)

You may have noticed that paragraph 1.6 could be quite a bit clearer.

What ordinary citizen who is new to homeschooling would guess that “non-Board of Education personnel” means “the parents”?

Or that the “State law” referred to doesn’t exist? (They really mean the State regulations.)

Or that “knowledge” would probably be a better word than “approval”? (Whoever wrote this seems to have been thinking of the person with the authority to tell someone to change the computer code, but it comes off sounding like they’re referring to the authority to take your child out of school – which doesn’t depend on “approval” by anyone in the NYC DOE.)   

Or that the NYC Central Office of Home Schooling has existed since 2006-7? (The current version of paragraph 1.6 predates the office’s creation. These days, it’s this office that deals with homeschooling in NYC, except when the parents of children who are in District 75, which is a city-wide district for severely disabled students who are nevertheless well enough to physically attend school and so don’t qualify for homebound instruction, voluntarily choose homeschooling instead. It still makes sense to mention District 75, but it no longer makes sense to mention the community school district or the high school.)

Yet despite all these things that we’d like to see updated or corrected, school personnel do eventually seem able (sometimes with help) to find paragraph 1.6 and conclude that it describes the correct “Reason for Discharge” for a child of compulsory school age whose parents have decided to homeschool. Schools do seem able to accept, in the end, that once the computer code is changed to “444”, the Central Office of Home Schooling will be responsible for seeing to it that the homeschool requirements are met. They are then able to hand the whole glue pot over, and stop pestering the parent.

Now, let’s contrast all this with the situation parents find themselves in if they want to take their children out of a NYC public school before they are of compulsory school age (right now that’s typically kindergarten or below, but it will be pre-K starting in 2013-14). Here are two more of the eighteen possible “Reasons for Discharge”:

1.7 Students who are 3 to 5 years old by December 31st may be voluntarily withdrawn from school by a parent or guardian. Documentation of the parent’s request for withdrawal is required. Every effort should be made to obtain the parent’s signature verifying the withdrawal request. The child and parent must be seen by a school staff member prior to the discharge. If there are concerns regarding the status of the child, an attendance teacher’s investigation should be initiated. If there are questions concerning the child’s safety and welfare, the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) must be contacted immediately.

1.8 Students who are under six years of age and not required to attend school according to compulsory education law, who are absent from school for 20 consecutive days without explanation, may be discharged under the following circumstances:

  • an investigation conducted by an attendance teacher, including an interview with the parent and child, has confirmed the safety and wellbeing of the child. During the course of the interview every effort has been made to encourage the child’s continued education.
  • the parent is informed that the child will be discharged because of the failure to attend school.
  • the parent is informed of the responsibility to register the child in school at age six.
  • a registered letter (in the parent’s home language) informing the parent of the discharge has been sent to the home.

A child who is not yet of compulsory school age (and whose attendance doesn’t cause him/her to fall under paragraph 1.8) is covered by paragraph 1.7. And that’s where the school’s insistence on a face-to-face meeting with the parent and child may come from.

We don’t have any problem with the school’s contacting ACS if there really is a reasonable concern about the child’s safety and welfare.

But the sentence, “The child and parent must be seen by a school staff member prior to the discharge” means that, like we said at the beginning of this blog post, it’s sometimes harder for parents to get children who aren’t yet of compulsory school age out of school than for them to withdraw children who are. And this is independent of whether the staff at the school has any worries at all about the child’s safety and welfare. It ends up being a matter of covering themselves. Since they don’t have the Office of Home Schooling to hand over responsibility to, they sometimes overzealously follow instructions as laid out in 1.7. 

We understand that it’s only March, and nobody’s going to be discharging students from the 2013-14 public school system until at least September, which is six months from now.

But we thought we’d put on record well in advance that some updating and correcting will be needed.

After all, the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) has had about twenty-five years since the NYS Regulations on Home Instruction went into effect (in 1988) to explicitly acknowledge their existence in its own regulations.

And it has had about six years since the NYC Central Office of Home Schooling was created (in 2006-7) to acknowledge the existence of that office in the same (NYC) regulations.

It has so far done neither – thus guaranteeing confusion for legions of parents and NYC DOE personnel.   

Anyone who’s gotten this far and who is still interested enough to want to see the current NYC public school discharge codes can go to this link to see “Transfer, Discharge and Graduation Code Guidelines for 2012-13” (like the other documents we’ve been describing, this one will need updating for 2013-14): 

Transfer, Discharge and Graduation Codes

Don’t be confused by the “Quick Reference Table 2012-13”, which says that code “04” is for “Under Six Years Old”. (“Hey, is a child really not of compulsory age at the start of the school year, but only on his/her sixth birthday?”) That phrase is just short for “Under Compulsory School Age” – as you can see farther down, in the table that gives the full description for each discharge code. (In simplifying things, the NYC DOE sometimes just complicates them.)

This document (miraculously?) does mention the existence of both the NYC Central Office of Home Schooling and the regulations (though it doesn’t say which regulations). These mentions are in the full table (not the Quick Reference Table). For the “00” code, it says in part: “Students transferring into home schooling must comply with all regulations and have documents filed with the central Home Schooling Office.” (That is, the Central Office of Home Schooling.)

Also good news is that this part of the document doesn’t use the inaccurate word “apply” – in contrast with other parts of the same table, which say things like (for code “08”): “This code cannot be used for on-line school. Families wishing to make use of on-line school follow the process to apply for home schooling.” (Again, we homeschoolers don’t “apply”, or seek “approval” or “permission” – we simply notify the authorities of our intention to homeschool by sending them a letter of intent.)  

Finally, the best thing about this document is that in two places it makes clear that what is really needed for the discharge (under code “04”) of a student not yet of compulsory age is a record that it’s the parent who wanted to take him/her out.

The first place it says this is on page 5, in the (full) Discharge Codes table. It says that when a code “04” discharge is entered, there will be a “Discharge Reason” menu to choose from. The two relevant choices seem to be “C” (“Alternate child care being provided by a family member”) or “E” (“Investigation complete, parent interview completed OR parent requests the discharge”). As a side note, we think we prefer “E” because “C” comes off sounding a little weird (is a young child’s home now merely a stopgap substitute?), but we suppose that either will do.

The second place that this document says that what’s really needed for code “04” is a record that it’s the parent who wants the discharge is in a chart on page 17 that has two columns (one with the discharge codes and the other with the heading “Required Evidence / Documentation”). It says for discharge code “04”:

Record of parent request for withdrawal OR record of interview with parent and child. Copy/receipt of registered letter informing parent of discharge.

Is that cool, or what? Parents who are trying to take their (under-compulsory-age) kids out of a NYC public school and are encountering a nervous school employee who insists on a meeting, or on “approval”, may be able to reassure them with these two references.

The word “OR”, after all, is in capital letters in both places!

When it comes right down to it, all that staff person needs to do for a child not yet of compulsory age is be sure it’s on record that it was the parent who requested the withdrawal. This is, rightly enough, a way of keeping schools from kicking kids out for no good reason once they’ve gotten a seat, even if they’re too young to be required to attend. (And this protection from being denied a seat is one reason cited for the switch to “mandatory kindergarten” in the first place.)

Unless the school employee really and truly fears for the safety and welfare of the child (or unless the parent wants to talk about the discharge), there’s no need for a meeting.

We’re happy with these last two references. We hope they can serve as an example for other documents (and other passages in the same document) over the next six months, as (we trust) the NYC DOE proceeds to update and correct.

Our wish list also includes a switch to the use of “homeschooling” (one word) rather than “home schooling” (two words) – though only after some careful thought on search word equivalency. Also, we’d like a more consistent use of “home (sending) school” when “home school” has nothing to do with homeschooling, but is just supposed to mean the school that a student transfers from or is expected to go back to. And we’d appreciate a clearer distinction everywhere between our kind of homeschooling (by parental choice) and what we like to call “homebound instruction” (tutoring at home by a NYC DOE employee when the child can’t attend school) – though we acknowledge that the longstanding use of the term “home instruction” for both these phenomena is complicated to untangle. These three tricky bits have been around for many years, but are worth getting right whenever any editing is undertaken.

After two blog posts, we haven’t even really gotten to the bit in A-101 (the recently-updated part of the NYC regulations) about how children whose “parents elect instead to enroll them in first grade the following academic year” won’t in fact be required to attend kindergarten (or file homeschool paperwork) in 2013-14. (You know, the bit that was too counterintuitive – or too off-message – for the media, so it reduced everything to: “Kindergarten is now mandatory in NYC and Rochester”.) Maybe we’ll attempt to cover that ourselves in the future, or maybe the NYC DOE will step up and clarify.  

We haven’t heard from the DOE lately. So if we got anything in this blog post wrong, please excuse our muddling through on our own.