Why Comply with the Homeschool Regulations

Some parents comply with the New York State Regulations on Home Instruction without a full understanding of why it makes sense to do so. They comply because they’re afraid that if they don’t, whoever processes homeschool paperwork locally will track them down themselves (something that’s relatively unlikely – parents who have never filed any homeschool paperwork at all would be hard to find except in rural areas where everyone knows each other).

These parents overlook the more compelling reason to be in compliance, and this lack of understanding has complicated many discussions about the Regulations, for example those about “mandatory kindergarten” in New York City and Rochester beginning in 2013-14. Note: We’re putting “mandatory kindergarten” in quotes because, as we’ve pointed out in our blog posts on that topic (most recently, “More on Compulsory School Age”, May 27), it ain’t that simple.

Other parents (a relatively small number) decide not to comply with the Regulations because they don’t think they’ll get “caught” – but they don’t understand who’s most and least likely to catch them, or why.

We’re working on an update on the kindergarten mess, but first we need to get to this key issue of “why to comply”.

Let’s start with an excerpt from a recent post by Elsa Haas (PAHSI’s director) to a couple of homeschool email lists:

[…] Because people often find it hard to imagine something bad happening to them that isn’t their fault, I’m going to give you a single example of an unexpected event that led one family to be grateful they lived in a state (NYS) that requires homeschool paperwork. 

This is the example: the dad was seriously injured in a car crash. He was in the hospital a long time, and the mom and kids spent as much time there as they could. Soon, a hospital social worker was asking why the kids were there so often “during school hours”. 

This family belonged to our local homeschool support group, and the mom later told everybody that she was glad to have some official homeschool paperwork to flash at the social worker, who immediately backed down. 

Note that this family wasn’t even unschooling, so the kids were actually doing things that were easily recognizable as “schoolwork” while at the hospital. Imagine this same scenario for an unschooling family like mine (if you can imagine it). 

Paperwork can be a terrific protection. I could give you other examples because I’ve talked parents through some intensely sticky situations as they unfolded. But I’ll leave it at that for now. […]

I admit that it’s rare for homeschoolers to have to deal with a social worker, child protective services worker, etc., and that I see a disproportionate number of sticky situations simply because people come to me for help in a legal crisis. 

But just because it’s rare doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen to you (like the awful car crash I described above), and if it does it’s really nice not to have to explain homeschooling (or, even worse, unschooling) from scratch, in the middle of a crisis, with no official paperwork on file to back you up in any way. 

If you live in a state with no paperwork requirements, it’s true that you can keep a stack of 4-H stuff by your door  [note: someone in another state had posted that this is what she does, because 4-H activities are quite recognizably educational] just in case, but I like having my letter of compliance (which officially acknowledges my IHIP – Individualized Home Instruction Plan) there instead. In many cases, it’s very, very streamlined to send the social worker away with that. […]

We could give other examples from real life because we’ve talked parents through a number of difficult situations over the years.

But this example of a car crash has the virtue of being about a situation that almost everyone can imagine themselves in – even if they have nice neighbors and supportive relatives who would never dream of lodging a complaint about their always quiet, well-groomed, and well-read children living in their well-maintained house or apartment building in their middle-class, white neighborhood.

You may even be able to relate to this example if you don’t drive and if your kids don’t ride a bike (whether during or outside of “school hours”) – because everyone walks down the sidewalk sometime, and anyone can be hit by a car that jumps the curb.

One parent responded to Elsa’s post, though, by saying that she (the parent) had once spent a long time in a hospital and her child was there for many hours at a stretch during “the school day”, and that while some hospital staff did ask, “What, no school today?”, nobody demanded to see homeschool paperwork after being told that the child was homeschooled.

To this kind of reasoning (“I did that once, and nothing bad happened to me”), we don’t know what to say. We can only lay out the general concept of risk – you’ll have to estimate the odds and make your own decision.

To belabor an earlier point, if you live in New York City, it’s not really the NYC Central Office of “Home Schooling” (that is, Homeschooling) that you should worry about. Unlike some government entities in certain places (Germany, for instance), the people in that office don’t track children in a computer from birth in order to be alerted the instant each child reaches compulsory school age.

They also don’t have their own dedicated enforcement squad at the ready to send to your door if you begin filing homeschool paperwork but if later paperwork seems to be missing. If they need to contact you about it and the mail and/or phone fail them (see item 66 in the NYSED’s “Questions and Answers on Home Instruction”), they have to either borrow an “Attendance Teacher” from elsewhere in the NYC DOE (Department of Education) to go find you, or report you to ACS (Administration for Children’s Services).

The NYC Central Office of Homeschooling doesn’t like to go through all that, so if it’s just late paperwork that’s the issue, they tend whenever possible to say, “We just want the paperwork”, rather than being punitive (though they may end up making you feel some embarrassment over it).

If anything, they’re there to protect you against the more fearsome government entities – but they can’t do that if they don’t have your paperwork on file.

So the pragmatic way to look at the NYC Central Office of Homeschooling (or at whoever else processes your paperwork, if you live elsewhere) is to see them as comparable to the notary public who helps you put on record an affidavit or agreement, or the town clerk who registers your marriage, or the lawyer who keeps in his files a copy of your will.

None of these people chase after you. All of them provide a service.

The potential service that the homeschool paperwork people provide is to be the ones to confirm, in a crisis, “Yes, that family has been in compliance since [DATE], according to our records” – and to produce a copy of your paperwork, if needed.  

Please don’t underestimate the value of this service, even if you resent “the government” (to use a generic, simplistic term that doesn’t distinguish between different governmental entities) having any say in your homeschooling.

Finally, beyond the overall legal protection you can get from being on the record, there may be some specific practical benefits.

One example is eligibility to take the GED test. Depending on age and where in the state the family lives, your child may need a signature from someone official, attesting to the fact that s/he has been homeschooled, in order to sit for the test. Beginning in January of 2014, the GED in NYS will be replaced by the TASC (Test Assessing Secondary Completion), but it’s likely that this will continue to be true. Not that most homeschooled kids in NYS have traditionally taken the GED, but doing so may become more necessary for certain college purposes in 2013-14, as several federal changes go into full effect. In any case, here’s the link to a form called Attachment B, which is one of several GED eligibility forms – you can see the place for the signature there: 

http://www.acces.nysed.gov/ged/documents/attch-b.pdf

The NYC Central Office of Homeschooling generally refuses to accept first-time homeschool paperwork for kids who are already beyond compulsory school age (which in NYC ends on June 30 of the school year in which they turned 17). This is partly because the NYC DOE doesn’t want homeschooling to become a back door route for kids to drop out of high school and still “succeed”. The Office also sometimes refuses to continue processing paperwork for kids who “age out” of homeschooling (see “Aging Out in NYC – Made Simple”, June 4).

So you may need to establish a record with that office (or its local equivalent) long before your child ages out, in order to do something like have him/her take the GED (or its future equivalent, the TASC) “early”.

Another (and a simpler) example is working papers for minors, which have to be signed for and/or issued by school officials or their homeschool counterparts.  

But we can’t give you an exhaustive list of disasters and practicalities, in order to find the one that applies to you. We can only give a few examples, and hope we’ve made our point: that being on the record can be important in many (not entirely predictable) ways.

Homeschool paperwork – it’s what’s for breakfast.