by Deborah Stevenson
If you don’t know, you should.
How else can you tell whether the next government official who tells you that you have to do what he says is lying or misunderstanding the law?
Do you really want to “comply” with what the government official tells you to do if it is not required by law?
Maybe it doesn’t bother you to “comply”. Would it bother your neighbor? More importantly, would it bother your children when it is their turn to homeschool your grandchildren? Perhaps it would.
If you “comply” when you are not required to do so, will it become that much easier for the government officials to make your neighbor or your children “comply” when it is their turn? Will you be setting a precedent for them?
Think about it. It is very important for all parents to know exactly what the law is that allows the parent to homeschool in the state in which the parent resides. Each state has its own way of doing things. Each state legislature has enacted statutes regarding education, but not all of those statutes from state to state are alike. In some states, in fact, there may be no statutes that directly address the right to homeschool. The language in the statutes may only address the rights of parents instead of addressing those rights as “homeschooling”. In still other states, the statutes are many and detailed as to how “homeschooling” must take place. Do you know in which type of state you live?
It is not unusual for parents new to homeschooling to be completely unaware of the contents of the statutes that allow them to homeschool. Twenty years ago, very few people were aware of the contents of the statutes or even whether it was legal to homeschool at all. Today, most people at least have some idea that there are statutes that allow parents to homeschool, but many are not quite sure exactly what the statutes say or how or why parents are able to homeschool. Oftentimes, people only become aware of what the statutes say when the legislature in that state seeks to impose more regulation.
How did you obtain the information that you are aware of concerning your right to homeschool? Did you hear about it from a friend? Did you read about it in a newspaper? Did the local public school official tell you? Do you really know exactly what the law says, or do you just think you know?
Read the Law Itself
Unless you have read the exact language in all of the applicable statutes, you don’t know the law that enables you to homeschool. You must read the exact language in the statutes. But you don’t want to, you say? It’s too hard, too boring, you say? It may well be difficult and boring. But it is most necessary. Why? Because the language contained in the statute may change each time the legislature is in session. The legislature may add only a word or two, or the legislature may add or delete complete sentences and paragraphs. A single word may be crucial, particularly if the word “may” is changed to “may not”.
You must read the exact language because a government official may read the statute in a way that glosses over crucial parts and that emphasizes other parts desired by the government official to be followed. If you are unaware that the official has done so, you may be duped into following the agenda of the government official unbeknownst to you. You must read the exact language because you may be able to convince government officials that your interpretation of the law is the correct interpretation. You must read the exact language because not to do so puts you at risk for failing to abide by the law. You cannot abide by what you do not know.
If you are in violation of the law, there may be penalties to pay, financially or otherwise. You must read the exact language of the law so that you may know when it is necessary to change the law. You must have a true understanding of the law in order to develop effective ideas and persuasive arguments as to why the law should be changed. You may be faced with the need to change the law in order to protect not only your right to homeschool, but also your children’s right to homeschool their children.
If you do want to find out exactly what the law is, but don’t know how to go about doing it, the following suggestions may help.
Find the Most Recent Version of the Statutes
Find the most recent version of the applicable statutes. This is easier to do today, than it was twenty years ago, thanks to the internet. Most state statutes are available online at the state government website. Browsing through the table of contents is a great way to become familiar with all of the laws that might apply to the rights of parents to homeschool.If you are unable to access the statutes electronically, your local library should have a copy of them in book form.
Seek out the assistance of the reference librarian. The librarian may also be able to assist you if you want to access the statutes through the library’s computer. You may also be able to access the statutes at the local courthouse. Many have law libraries in the courthouses and a similarly helpful law librarian.
You may also be able to access the statutes by visiting your local law school. The law school may or may not allow the public access to its law library, but it’s worth a try.
Once you have found the statutes, browsed through the table of contents or index, and chosen the applicable statutes, read the text of each statute carefully and keep a copy handy. Reading statutes is not like reading a novel. The first time you read a statute you understand the words and much of the meaning, but with each successive reading comes more understanding and more ideas for differing interpretations. Read the text frequently.
Research the Administrative Regulations
You might think that your job is done at this point, but, sadly, you would be mistaken. Statutes generally are worded in broad generalizations. In order for statutes to be implemented effectively, the state agencies in charge of implementing them generally adopt what are known as “administrative regulations.” Administrative regulations have the full force and effect of law.
Regulations are enforceable just as statutes are. Regulations go into more specific detail than do statutes. Regulations are the means by which statutes are implemented. How regulations are adopted may vary from state to state. More than likely, the state agency may hold a public hearing on proposed regulations before they actually are adopted. You may have to do some searching to find out when and where the hearings take place. Notice of them may only be posted in a Law Journal or other legal publication. If you are lucky, you may be able to find these notices online. Otherwise, you may have to contact the law librarian at the local courthouse.
There also may be requirements for the proposed regulations to be reviewed by a legislative committee before being adopted. You should also check with your local legislator to find out what this process is in your state. You should obtain, read, re-read, and keep a copy of all regulations that implement all of the statutes that apply to the right of parents to homeschool in your state.
Know the Relevant Town Ordinances
There is yet one more thing that you should do to become fully informed about your rights under state law, and that is to look up any city or town ordinances and local Public School Board of Education policies. It is not likely that there will be any city or town ordinances that are applicable, but you should make sure anyway. There are likely to be local Public School Board of Education policies. The policies are located in the Board of Education offices, possibly also in the city or town clerk’s offices or online.
Check the table of contents or index for all ordinances or policies that may apply, read, and obtain copies to keep handy. Keep in mind, however, that Board of Education policies may or may not be applicable to those who are no longer enrolled in the public school system. Again, whether or not Board of Education policies apply depends on what is contained in the state statutes about this issue.
If you have done all of the above, you are now well on your way to knowing what law in your state enables you to homeschool. It is still important to review the law, as well as past and present interpretations of it, with other homeschoolers in your state and attorneys licensed to practice in your state who are familiar with homeschooling law.
After you have done all of this and a government official tells you that you are “required” to do something, you will be confident and truly empowered to tell that official whether he has misinterpreted the law or whether he is asking you to do something that is not required of you to do. You will know how to respond, and you will be able to choose how you want to respond. You may want to comply or you may not want to comply. At least now, you will have a true choice. You will not feel intimidated into compliance unnecessarily. You will not be forced to comply. By becoming empowered with knowledge, you will be able to stand up for what you believe is right. You will be able to protect your rights under the law. You will be able to maintain those rights for yourself, for your children, and for your grandchildren.
As Executive Director of National Home Education Legal Defense, it is my hope that every parent becomes informed, empowered, confident, and proud to protect parental rights now and in the future.
For more information about National Home Education Legal Defense, visit their web site:
Attorney Deborah G. Stevenson
P.O. Box 704
Southbury, CT 06488
Tel.: (860) 354-3590
Deborah Stevenson is the mother of two grown homeschooled daughters, an attorney and founder and executive director of National Home Education Legal Defense (NHELD). NHELD supports individual empowerment, unity of purpose, and freedom to educate. In 1989 Deborah founded Connecticut's Citizens to Uphold the Right to Educate (C.U.R.E.), a statewide grassroots legislative watchdog organization. She homeschooled her two daughters who each graduated from college earlier than most of us graduate from high school - one at age 16, the other at age 15.
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