Home Schools, State Rules: Red Tape Remains as Successes Grow
Innerst, Carol, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
First of three articles
As dissatisfaction with public schools mounts, home schooling is gaining disciples and respectability. But it still isn't easy.
Just this summer, Michigan became the last state to concede that home-schooling parents have the right to teach their children without teacher certification.
Over the past decade, home schooling has been made legal in all 50 states.
And in a policy shift still in its infancy, some states and local school districts are beginning to give home-schooled children access to public school facilities and activities such as clubs, bands and even athletics.
But the long-held hostility of many public school officials, the National Education Association and others toward home-schoolers lingers, and clashes between home-schooling parents and government school agents are on the rise in some jurisdictions.
"Now the battle is over the right to be free from certain regulations," said Christopher J. Klicka, executive director of the National Center for Home Education and senior counsel with the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA).
"It's over how much can you regulate rather than can you exist."
"A large part of what we do is keeping social workers out of their homes," Mr. Klicka said. "We have a growing problem with social workers who get called when a school official or a neighbor doesn't like the fact that somebody is home-schooling. They can no longer call the truant officers because home schooling is legal, so they call the child welfare agency and report `educational neglect.' Sometimes they're well-meaning, but often they're malicious."
In Maryland, a mother who is teaching her child at home faced a possible jail sentence for refusing to submit required paperwork to the Anne Arundel County public school system.
Cheryl Anne Battles has taught her 8-year-old daughter, Emily McCann, at home for two years. She was charged with violating the state's compulsory-education law. The state said it was "not a case against home schooling."
Her attorney, David Gordon, successfully argued that the law requires only that Mrs. Battles give her child a thorough education, not that she submit to oversight by school officials.
Maryland's regulations on home-schoolers were good compared with the little that was out there when they were promulgated in 1987, but they are now among the most restrictive in the country, according to Scott Somerville, HSLDA staff attorney.
"The atmosphere in the country has been more favorable to home schooling in the last 10 years," said Christy Farris, spokeswoman for the 13-year-old Virginia-based advocacy group. "When we first started, many states didn't have home-schooling laws on the books. Now it's legal in all 50 states."
Miss Farris, eldest daughter of HSLDA President Michael P. Farris, said the number of home-schoolers has grown by 25 percent a year for the past couple of years and is now between 900,000 and 1.2 million. The U.S. Department of Education puts the number at 600,000 but concedes that is probably the "tip of the iceberg."
Relatively few states keep records, and even in the ones that do it's impossible to know the exact number because many families don't report to the school district.
Historically, families have elected to home-school their children for religious reasons. But the new wave of home schooling has been fueled by dissatisfaction with the public schools for academic as well as moral reasons, Miss Farris said.
In a Florida State Department of Education survey of home-schoolers last year, 61 percent cited dissatisfaction with public schools, for the first time topping religion as the reason most parents turned to home schooling.
Dissatisfaction with the public school environment (safety, drugs and adverse peer pressure) accounted for 39. …