Writing An IHIP in NYC If You Unschool (or Are “Child-Led”, Etc.)
Here are some suggestions from PAHSI (Partnership for Accurate Homeschooling Information), based on a document first put together by Elsa Haas in August, 2011. (This is an official PAHSI document as of September 4, 2011. Elsa’s email address as of that time is ElsaHaas2@gmail.com.)
Please don’t re-post, forward or distribute this document, in whole or in part and by any means, without written permission (see copyright notice at bottom).
IMPORTANT NOTE: These are just suggestions. They’re not meant to be a “guaranteed formula” for anybody’s IHIP (Individualized Home Instruction Plan) – not even in New York City, where the Homeschool Office has a track record of accepting unconventional paperwork. (Outside of NYC, please take these suggestions with even more grains of salt.)
If your approach involves more freedom or spontaneity than in conventional schools or conventional homeschooling, don’t be afraid to say so in your IHIP. Words like “unschooling” and “child-led” have appeared in IHIPs in NYC since at least as far back as 2006-7, and IHIPs that make it fairly clear that the parent’s approach is an unconventional one date even farther back than that.
Since one of your options is to provide a “plan of instruction”, just do that and try to forget about narrower sounding words like “curriculum” as you write.
Try writing a draft IHIP as if you were explaining, to somebody you like and who likes you, what you plan to do (you can even pick a friend and write him/her an email that does just that, then figure out later how to use all or part of it in the IHIP).
Once you have a first draft, read it and ask yourself:
1.) Did I name the required subjects for my child’s grade level (either one by one or lumped together), so that it’s clear I know what they are? (Tip: It’s OK to say something simple here, for example, “We are aware that the required subjects for first grade are: Arithmetic, Reading -”. Don’t worry too much about whether you should use terms like “cover” or “provide instruction in”, if these sound too formal – you don’t need them for that sentence.)
2.) Have I given the impression that we are much more conventional than we really are, to the point where this IHIP will give me no protection if a neighbor complains to the ACS about the fact that my child is “behind” or that I “don’t teach” him/her? Or would I be able to point to this IHIP and say, “This is the plan I described in writing at the beginning of the year, and it’s on file at the Homeschool Office”?
3.) If a friend who spends a lot of time with our family were to read this, would s/he know what family it describes without looking at the names? Or is it so non-specific that it could have been cut and pasted from almost anybody else’s IHIP?
4.) Likewise, if I have more than one child, would s/he be able to tell which child this IHIP is about? (This can be as simple as mentioning jazz dance or checkers.)
5.) If I separated out the required subjects, did I cut and paste the same sentence over and over, once for each subject, so that it looks like I was trying to fill up a couple of pages (and hoping nobody would bother reading the IHIP)?
6.) If this IHIP lists possible future resources or topics, does it introduce the list with a phrase like “may include but will not be limited to” (to give me some space to change my mind)?
7.) If it does have a list like that, did I explain what the “plan” is for choosing amongst those resources or topics? (Tip: It’s OK to say that it’s your child who chooses. But a list of resources plus the indication that you may or may not use them might not be considered a “plan”.)
8.) If I didn’t list any possible future resources or topics, did I give one or more examples of things our family has done or places we have gone in the past? Or of spontaneous questions my child has asked in the past? Or of ways I have in the past reacted to what my child does or doesn’t show an interest in, and how doing so worked out for us? (Tip: You don’t necessarily need an example for each required subject, especially if you’re lumping subjects together.)
9.) If I didn’t list any titles of books we might use, what about giving a title here and there of some book my child has enjoyed in the past (including books s/he has enjoyed listening to)?
10.) If my child is so far a non-reader and I haven’t said so in this IHIP, could I be seen later (if, for example, there is a complaint to the Administration for Children’s Services by a neighbor or relative) as having misled the person reading it into thinking that the book I listed as a past example was one my child had read on his or her own? What about instead stating something more direct about my child’s “late reading”?
11.) Is this IHIP so non-specific that it could just as easily apply to a child who, for example, can’t speak or use sign language? Could its lack of concrete detail be interpreted as an attempt to hide the fact that my child has some special challenges?
12.) If I had a job in which I had to read IHIPs and decide whether they were in compliance or not with the Regulations, would I feel OK about having this IHIP in my filing cabinets where my boss or state officials might see it someday? Or would it just make me look like I had sent out a letter of compliance for it without even reading it? (See, again, #5 above.)
13.) If this isn’t my first IHIP (for example, if my past IHIPs have looked more conventional and I’m now moving to more of an “unschooling style”), is it possible that any vagueness might be seen as offset by the detail that I’ve generally provided in my quarterly reports?
14.) How will I handle the next IHIP – can I imagine updating this one in some way, so that it’s clear I’m not asleep at the wheel? Or will my quarterly reports be concrete enough to take care of that, as long as the next IHIP is seen in context?
15.) Have I thoroughly read both the NYS Regulations on Home Instruction and the NYSED’s “Questions and Answers on Home Instruction”? After writing this IHIP, have I gone back over the most generally relevant sections in the Regulations, which are 100.10-d (“Content of Individualized Home Instruction Plan”), and 100.10-e (“Required Courses”)? (Tip: Both documents can be accessed through this link: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/nonpub/homeinstruction/ .)
16.) If my child is approaching middle or high school age/grade and might conceivably attend a public school in NYC in the future, have I considered the effect my homeschool paperwork might have on admissions? (Tip: For sixth-grade admission to certain public schools and programs, it’s fourth-grade “school records” that count. For seventh, it’s fifth, and so on. The NYC Central Office of Homeschooling doesn’t generally forward your actual homeschool paperwork to the public school your child is applying to, and parents typically create a “transcript” specifically for the purpose of admissions if necessary. But limited records are accessible to the public schools through the citywide computer system, and paper files can get around or be commented on. You may want to look into both computer and admissions procedures, both of which are always in flux, as you work on your IHIP.)
17.) If my child is approaching the age (or ability level) for college, or for programs like College Now, have I considered all three of these related but technically separate issues: admissions, financial aid, and whether s/he will be allowed to actually receive the college degree once s/he has earned it? (Tip: Your child’s options will depend on various factors, including whether s/he is still of “compulsory school age”. Whether s/he is or not, you may need the director of the NYC Central Office of Homeschooling to write some kind of letter. There are different kinds of letter and the director isn’t necessarily obligated to write the kind your child needs, so you may need the director’s cooperation and that may depend on the kind of homeschool paperwork you have been filing. The three issues can be complex, so it may be important to start looking into all three well in advance.)
18.) If this IHIP is rejected, can I imagine myself being open to making changes to it, or is it something I want to fall on my sword for? If the latter, have I asked others for an opinion on what the likely objections to it might be?
A final note:
Getting a letter of compliance for an IHIP doesn’t necessarily obligate the Homeschool Office to give you one for the following year, even if you turn in something almost identical (by updating only the dates and grade level).
Your previously accepted IHIP does set precedent to a point, but the Homeschool Office can always argue that while they “let it slide” for one grade they “can’t” for the next, because at the new grade level “things get more serious”. Likewise, the fact that somebody else submitted an IHIP similar or identical to yours doesn’t guarantee that the Homeschool Office will accept yours, because IHIPs can arguably be seen within the context of grade level, age, previous paperwork, timeliness of previous filings, and perhaps other factors.
That said, the Homeschool Office can’t be utterly arbitrary and subjective in reviewing your IHIP. (See #36 in the “Q. and A.”, which answers the question “When the IHIP is submitted by the parents, does the school district have the responsibility to make a subjective judgment of the substantial equivalency of the home instruction program?”) And of course any government office must be very careful about not being discriminatory.
Update: See the blog post “Some Unschooling IHIPs Get No Letter of Compliance”, posted on www.pashsi.net in November of 2013, for an explanation of why deliberately including some information on the ways in which your child is “behind” in the “3R’s” (if s/he is) can be crucial for your full protection (no matter how easy it is or isn’t to get a letter of compliance where you live).
© Copyright 2011 Elsa Haas – All Rights Reserved – Do not re-post, forward, or distribute this document, in whole or in part and by any means, without written permission from Elsa Haas.