That Letter on Teens Aging Out

Please scroll down far enough in this blog post (which is about New York City) to be able to consider certain points without dismissing them out of hand simply because of what you may have read recently online, or heard through the grapevine.

To encourage you to keep reading, we’ll say right now that three points related to “aging out” of compulsory schooling (which in NYC happens at the end of the “school year” in which the teen turns 17) have been battling it out for the top spot in this blog post.

These three points are:

  • When offered as a general statement, applicable to everybody, the advice that “you don’t really need to go to the appointment” (the appointment for a “planning interview conference”, about which you may recently have received a letter from the New York City Central Office of Home Schooling) is flawed. More on that later.   
  • It can be hard to know in advance how burning your bridges with the Office of Home Schooling (by not going to the meeting/interview and/or by saying certain inadvisable things) may affect you (or, more importantly, your teen – whose life it is). There are a lot of things you may not have thought of (not all of them related to college!). More on that later, too.
  • Once you understand (we’ll explain how we know it’s true in a bit) that the Office of Home Schooling isn’t required to accept homeschool paperwork from anyone whose child is beyond compulsory school age (or to later issue certain kinds of documents or letters on behalf of that teen), it should become clearer to you that you’re essentially asking for a favor when you say to that office that you want to continue filing the paperwork. It should also become clearer that, if you do say this, it is unnecessary to simultaneously point out that you aren’t required to attend the meeting/interview (they already know this). And pointing this out might be misinterpreted as deliberate rudeness. A better approach might be to (politely) ask what these meetings are like, and whether it would be possible to accomplish the same thing by phone. (And you might want to avoid pointing out that somebody told you that in their case everything was handled by phone in the past – in this case, that office isn’t bound by what was done in the past.)

In addition to those three urgent points, here are three more points we want to touch on in this blog post:

  • As we just alluded to, you can’t necessarily rely on what happened last year to know what will happen this year, or in future years. This is especially true because there have been some recent changes at the federal and state levels (concerning such things as college admission, financial aid, and the GED) that only go into effect in the fall or winter of 2013-14 (some of last year’s students were “grandfathered in”).
  • While it’s good to know how things have played out for other families, it’s also good to know, before you get into a heated discussion with the Office of Home Schooling about any of this, exactly what document/s that office could draw on to counter your argument.
  • The Office of Home Schooling has a very small staff and (budgeting it well in advance) pulls people in from other parts of the NYC DOE for limited periods to complete certain tasks. And its hands are sometimes tied by tricky combinations of things, like security clearance for various computer platforms and the NYC public school discharge codes. So time is not limitless for them, and “common sense” (referred to in some of the emails or calls we got) isn’t necessarily the problem in any given situation.             

Now that you know what this blog post will cover, we can afford to back up a bit and give some context, especially since some people have started looking to PAHSI for information, yet don’t understand that ever since our Great Rift last summer/fall with the Office of Home Schooling (more on that eventually, in some other blog post), our sources are now mostly – well, you! (That’s a collective “you.”)

On 05/06/2013, Elsa Haas (PAHSI’s director) posted the following in various online venues:

Last year there was a lot of discussion about “aging out” of homeschool paperwork, and about the wording of certain letters issued by the NYC Central Office of Homeschooling for purposes like college admissions and financial aid.

This year, we haven’t heard much about all of that. If anyone has gotten a letter or phone call from that office about the fact that your child has reached or will reach age 17 (that’s the cutoff in NYC) by June 30, please post what was said. And as a general warning, if your child is in this category and you expect to ask that office for any kind of help at any point in the future, it’s a good thing to have all of your paperwork on file. (Even better is to never have been late with any of it, and for it to be rather more complete than the most “minimalist” thing you could possibly get away with.) Sometimes, because that office doesn’t necessarily have the staff to track people down immediately over late paperwork, parents don’t file quarterlies (or even IHIPs) for many months, and then they try to file it all at once when they want something. The thing to remember is that that office isn’t required to do much of anything for you after your kid “ages out”, so it’s helpful to be on good terms with them.

After this was posted, we waited. Our first indirect sighting of this year’s “aging-out” letters was this, posted in one of many online venues on 05/27/2013:

Dear All-

I have received a letter from [NAME DELETED] of the Office of Safety & Youth Development, 52 Chambers Street, Room 218, NYC, NY 10007 advising me of a “planning interview conference” for my child. According to [NAME DELETED] my daughter and I are to report to 333 Seventh Avenue, 7th floor, on a designated date and time for this interview conference. It is noted in the letter that my daughter “will soon be beyond compulsory attendance age and no longer required to be home instructed according to mandates of the NYSED CR Part 110.10 and that is the reason for this meeting.”(My daughter is just completing 11th grade).

I have never received any communication from [NAME DELETED] before. My letters and quarterly reports are mailed to [the director of the NYC Central Office of Home Schooling].

There is no language in the NY State Homeschooling Regulations about such a conference. I have never heard any other homeschooling family talk about such an interview.

I would greatly appreciate hearing about your thoughts and guidance on the matter.

Many thanks,

[NAME DELETED]

Parents then began relating their experiences, often without telling the whole story, or without saying what year they were talking about or how old their kids were at the time. Don’t get us wrong – we love it when people post their experiences. But it can get confusing, especially when crucial facts are left out.

Early Friday morning, after struggling to untangle all the back-and-forth online, and all the off-list emails and phone calls, Elsa posted the following in various online venues (using the subject line “Warning for Parents of Teens Who Homeschool”):

If you homeschool and live in NYC, and if your teen is nearing the end of “compulsory school age” (kids in NYC “age out” at the end of the school year during which they turn 17), you may have recently received a letter about attending a “planning interview conference” (and if you didn’t, but your teen is nearing that age, maybe it just got lost in the mail, so you might want to read this anyway).

Some people have written to me saying that they plan to tell the Homeschool Office both that they want to continue filing homeschool paperwork and that they aren’t going to the “planning interview conference” described in the aging-out letter because “it isn’t required by the Regulations”. 

If any of you reading this right now have plans to tell the Homeschool Office anything like that (or anything at all, really – other than accepting the appointment pleasantly, or pleasantly asking for a different appointment), please give us the weekend to put up the blog post before you act on your plans, so that you can reconsider it. 

And at least for today, until we can explain further, you might want to avoid saying definitively to the Homeschool Office that your child has no plans for college – even if that’s the truth, and even if you hate homeschool paperwork and can’t wait to be done with the Homeschool Office forever. (If you aren’t sure how your tone will come across on the phone, you might want to just avoid answering any calls from the DOE until you have more info from the blog post.)

Sorry we haven’t reacted quicker to the discussions […] – my cancer is slowing me down these days.

Someone immediately posted to relate her past experiences with the “aging-out” letter. She wrote that the Office of Home Schooling initially wanted to stop accepting her homeschool paperwork, but that in the end it relented.  She concluded with this: “I do recommend staying up to date with filing but you do not have to go to this appointment. And you can file though the end of 12 and I know someone who filed a year beyond that but that was a few years back. Nothing to fear.”

We have her permission to re-post here her entire comment (without identifying her), but we won’t.

When someone describes having fallen behind with her homeschool paperwork, having not gone to the interview/meeting, and having been involved in a heated discussion (we don’t know who made it heated – we weren’t there) with someone at the Office of Home Schooling, but then says essentially that everything worked out just fine in the end for her family, you have to wonder what it was on the other side of the balance sheet that might have caused that office to give her the benefit of the doubt.

In other words, in that post there’s essentially a zero (zero points in the parent’s favor) on one side of the balance sheet and an “unknown” on the other. It becomes important to define that unknown.  

Without getting too specific about that particular family, we’d like to say that some kids aging out of compulsory schooling have not very much in the way of documentation to show for all of their academic work, while others have massive evidence that would be hard for the Office of Home Schooling to deliberately ignore.

This evidence may include: high SAT or ACT scores, high scores on Regents Exams, excellent grades in college courses (typically taken through College Now or as non-matriculated students), and heaps of potential college credit from CLEP, AP, DSST, or other exams. Some kids even leave “compulsory school age” behind having already amassed a full year’s worth or more of potential college credit, and already know exactly which colleges will immediately recognize that credit (this is sometimes planned out in advance through College Plus – not to be confused with College Now). Finally, with the recent rise of MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) that include proctored exams, there are now even more options for showing the Office of Home Schooling why your teen deserves this or that document or letter in order to clear this or that bureaucratic hurdle and reach his/her goals. There are many ways to reassure the people in that office that they wouldn’t be going out on a limb for your child if they were to keep him/her “on the books”, or use certain wording about him/her on forms or in letters. 

Some version of all that is the part of her child’s story that was left out by the parent posting “[…] but you do not have to go to this appointment.” That particular teen not only had some great “evidence”, but wasn’t likely to need a letter or document from that office later on.      

We’d also like to say that if a parent tells you that she and her child were “no-shows” at the meeting/interview last year because of a mix-up in the dates (and that this is the way she presented the situation to the Office of Home Schooling), but that it all worked out fine for them in the end, and if this is picked up by various people online and eventually transforms itself into the advice that you can tell the Office of Home Schooling that you refuse to go the meeting/interview because “it isn’t required by the Regulations”, and that it will still work out fine for you in the end because “just look at [the woman who posted]”, then something is seriously wrong with our grapevine. 

If you’ve made it to here, you may be wondering exactly what the Office of Home Schooling is supposed to be doing, according to the New York State Education Department, about teens who “age out”.

The most relevant item in the NYSED’s “Questions and Answers on Home Instruction” is item #44. (If you don’t know what that document is, you may want to read the first few points in “How the Homeschool Regulations Really Work”, which you can access by clicking on “About NYS Regulations.”)

Item #44 reads in full: “Is a district required to review the IHIP submitted for a student beyond compulsory attendance age? No.” That’s all it says – “No.” 

Now we’ll tell you why (as we said near the beginning of this blog post) it’s hard to know in advance what your child might need from the Office of Homeschooling. For one thing, the rules and policies of various entities might change. For another, there’s a dizzying array of things that “full-time high school student” status may affect (we’ll top the list with the less obvious items, leaving college admission for the bottom spot – since that’s what everybody thinks of first):   

  • Car insurance discounts for “good students” (or their parents).
  • Student visas. We remember a case years ago in which a parent had to get a notarized translation of the IHIP (Individualized Home Instruction Plan) itself because the letter of compliance for the IHIP didn’t include the grade level (we don’t remember what country that was). The Office of Home Schooling might be a helpful ally in similar situations involving student visas.
  • Student (or educator) discounts for bookstores, museums, zoos, art supply stores, theaters, train tickets, youth hostels, gym memberships, science festivals, Renaissance fairs, lectures, conferences, computers, software, online access, etc. (For some discounts, you can prove student status without documentation from the Office of Home Schooling – but for others, that documentation may be crucial.)   
  • Custody or child support proceedings.
  • Landlords or superintendents who want proof of student status in order for young people to live on their own (without parents).
  • Library privileges at certain university, private, or research libraries.
  • Certain government benefits that are based on age, but that can continue based on student status. (As with discounts, you may or may not need documentation or a signature from the Office of Home Schooling for this.)
  • Your explanation to the judge or social worker about your child’s home life and education, if your child gets in trouble with the law. (We hope this never happens to you – but some teens do get into trouble, and sometimes it’s just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.) 
  • Special education services (speech therapy, physical therapy, etc.)
  • Internships, volunteer work, competitions and summer programs that are based on student status rather than age
  • College Now courses 
  • The right to sit for the GED, or whatever the exam will be called that is to replace the GED in 2014, if you are under a certain age and don’t meet certain other requirements. (The GED changes will need to be a whole blog post unto itself.)
  • At least five different but interrelated things directly concerning college itself: admissions, federal financial aid, state financial aid, private financial aid (scholarships or loans), and the right to actually receive the degree you have already earned (this is referred to as the “preliminary education requirement”.)

To any parent who reads the above list and is still leaning towards not being on cordial terms with the Office of Home Schooling because “we have a thriving family business and he wants in, so he’s all set”, we have two words: hurricanes happen.

For the Office of Home Schooling, we have some suggestions about the wording of the “aging-out” letter for next year. But if (as has now become the custom) we don’t hear anything from them, we’ll just put that on our list of things to blog about at some point.

We would, though, like to ask that office (assuming it reads this blog post) to be flexible (at least, as far as the constraints of budget, staffing, discharge codes, etc., really allow) with certain parents who may have misunderstood their situation, and who may not have been able to clarify it in time for the appointments this coming week – especially because it’s mainly these parents’ kids, not the parents, who will suffer if doors are shut because of something the parents did or didn’t do.

After all, they aren’t even 18 yet, much less 21 – they’re young to have their lives ruined. (We’re mentioning age 21 because there has been a lot of speculation online recently about the concept that, since NYC residents are entitled to a NYC public school education of some sort until the age of 21 unless they have already obtained a high school diploma, homeschool parents in NYC should have the right to file homeschool paperwork past compulsory school age. For anyone wondering, it doesn’t work that way, for the same kinds of big-picture reasons that kids who drop out of high school can’t sit for the GED the next day – they may even have to wait until after their class has graduated.)  

Homeschool parents in NYS are used to being told by veteran homeschoolers, “Don’t do anything that isn’t in the Regulations.”

And this is relatively good advice in many situations. For example, it was good advice back when NYC’s IHIP forms still demanded, in capital letters and heading two columns, a “CURRICULUM” and a “SYLLABUS”. (Later, PAHSI and the director of the Office of Home Schooling worked together to overhaul the info packet line by line, so the form now faithfully lists all of the options included in the Regulations.) It was also good advice (back before the current office director took charge) when a staff person insisted that since testing requirements for NYC public school students had changed under the No Child Left Behind Act, they had automatically changed for homeschooled kids, too. (PAHSI was eventually able to persuade her otherwise.)

Statewide, it’s still generally good advice to check the Regulations (but also the NYSED’s “Q. and A. on Home Instruction”) before assuming that what is being asked of you is authorized and legitimate. Parents who read statewide postings about homeschooling not uncommonly see school districts all over the state demanding things like “a list of 25 books independently read” – by a first-grader! (PAHSI squelched that one by going to the NYSED with it, back when the NYSED was more accessible on homeschooling issues than it is now.)  

By the time their kids are 17, homeschool parents may have had years of exposure to the idea that they must always doubt what the authorities demand of them; may have learned to disregard certain mailings (test notices, surveys, charter school announcements, etc.) that are relevant only to public school students; and may have been told repeatedly that it is their duty to other homeschool families to be “minimalist” in their homeschool paperwork.

It’s a big paradigm shift from “don’t give them anything you aren’t required to give them” to “you may need something from them now or in the future, and they won’t necessarily be required to give it to you.”

Not everyone will shift gears instantly when they cross from the compulsory to the voluntary side, especially when the letter they find one day in the mail, towards the very end of their child’s compulsory era, is from a department and person they’ve never even heard of.

So we’re asking for patience on both sides, as we enter what may be a difficult week.

Last year, the “aging-out” letters were mailed in the first week of June, and parents were tentatively scheduled for meetings/interviews on June 12, 13, or 14. There was some follow-up by phone or by mail, and one letter said that the teens would be removed from the “active register” unless their parents responded by June 27.

It seems that this year, the process got underway sooner, which we see as a good sign.

Whether or not a parent can continue to file homeschool paperwork without attending a meeting/interview and what kind/s of letter the Office of Home Schooling is going to be willing to provide as time goes on are both open questions.

All PAHSI wants is for parents not to do anything rash based on bits of information from various sources. We think that at this point, if you have questions about the process, your best bet is to (politely) ask the Office of Home Schooling. But do let us know what happens – as always, you can contact us at comments@pahsi.net if you’re not active in any of the online venues where we tend to post.