So far this year (2013-14), it seems that there’s an increase in New York City in the number of “unschooling IHIPs” for which the parents haven’t gotten letters of compliance. (It’s also possible that some letters of compliance – whether or not for homeschoolers who consider themselves unschoolers – have been delayed because the NYC Central Office of Homeschooling has been unusually busy, due to an increase in kindergarten paperwork – see the blog post “The NYC Mandatory Kindergarten Mess”, from 08/12/2013.)
This blog post is tricky to write because sometimes when people say “unschooling IHIP”, what they really mean is “vague IHIP” – while PAHSI’s position has always been that an IHIP offers the parent little protection unless it includes some specifics, especially if the parents consider themselves “unschoolers”.
Specifics are even more important if the kids are “behind” in the “3R’s” from a conventional point of view. And, perhaps paradoxically, the protection is greater if you use the specifics to reveal instead of obfuscate this fact – because the IHIP is like a contract, and the letter of compliance is like the authorities’ signature on it.
A letter of compliance is crucial to your own protection – not so much from the Office of Homeschooling, but from other entities, for example the ACS (Administration for Children’s Services).
Quick example: boy hit by car while riding bike “during school hours” winds up at hospital, where hospital social worker takes note. (See the blog post “Homeschool Doorframe Day”, from 09/08/2013, for a more thorough explanation of the importance of a letter of compliance.)
The NYS Regulations on Home Instruction end up leaving some room for a kind of parental limbo.
This is because they require the school district (or, in the case of NYC, the “megadistrict”) to either “notify the parents that the IHIP complies with the requirements” or “give the parents written notice of any deficiency in the IHIP”.
Note that for the notification of compliance, the word “written” doesn’t appear. This is clarified by item number 49 in the NYSED’s “Q. and A. on Home Instruction”, which reads:
“Must a district notify parents that the IHIP is in compliance with C.R. 100.10? Yes. The district is obligated to notify parents that the IHIP is in compliance. It is strongly recommended that such notification be in writing.”
Limbo is not a good place to be, so we tend to advise parents to insist on a letter of compliance.
Elsa Haas, PAHSI’s director, likes to tell the story of the regional office that handled homeschool paperwork in her area of NYC before the creation of the NYC Central Office of Homeschooling in 2006-7.
She says that she sent her son’s very first “blatantly unschooling” IHIP (for first grade), to that regional office – and got no response.
Fearful that her highly unusual IHIP might have hit trouble, but wanting either a letter of compliance or a clear communication about any supposed “deficiency”, she finally called and said that she hadn’t gotten any response to her IHIP.
The regional person offered to go look in the files for the IHIP. When she got back to the phone, she said, “Yeah, it’s here.” Asked about a letter of compliance, she clarified, “We don’t send out any letter unless there’s something wrong with the IHIP.”
Elsa pointed out that the Regulations require notification of compliance, even if only by phone.
The reply? “Well, this is your notification.”
In other words: just call us up and we’ll “notify” you when we answer the phone!
The NYC Central Office of Homeschooling has been better about sending out letters of compliance, in most cases.
One exception has been the withholding of a letter of compliance if the parent refuses to submit a copy of the child’s birth certificate, which (even though the parent may assume that the conflict has blown over when s/he stops getting follow-up letters) can ultimately lead to a court date on a charge of educational neglect – again, if there’s some unexpected illness, accident, or complaint. And the lack of a letter of compliance and/or a DOE (Department of Education) computer record for the child can spell big trouble and major anxiety for the whole family, even if it does all eventually end in an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal. (See the blog post “How to Write a Letter of Intent to Homeschool in NYS”, from 03/11/2013, if you have been advised that a birth certificate is not required – even if it was a homeschool attorney from HSLDA who told you this.)
We don’t have details on all the unschooling IHIPs that haven’t gotten letters of compliance this year in NYC.
But however many they are, and whether or not there’s a significant uptick in this problem since last year, we think it’s high time to post some suggestions on how to write an unschooling IHIP that not only would be likely to get you a letter of compliance from the NYC Central Office of Homeschooling (and probably from a lot of other entities that process homeschool paperwork elsewhere in NYS), but also would be likely to give you maximum protection in pursuing unschooling as an unusual (but perfectly legitimate) educational approach.
So without further ado, we are now posting a document titled “Writing an IHIP in NYC If You Unschool (or Are ‘Child-Led’, Etc.)”. It dates back to 2011, but this is the first time we’ve put it up on the Internet. You can find it by clicking on the “Unschooling IHIPs” tab (at the top of your screen if you’re on a computer, but possibly off to the side or below if you’re on a mobile device).