Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Homeschooling Is Not a Crime

There are still lots of questions about homeschooling, but done correctly, and within the laws of your given community, homeschooling is, in fact, legal. Earlier this month, I enjoyed listening to one of the Home School Defense Legal Association's attorneys make a few presentations at the Central Coast Home Educators Conference in Santa Maria. He offered a lot of information, including the legal backdrop for the current educational allowances, as well as some pointers for keeping it all on the level, and he granted me permission to repeat the information here.

First, let me confess that I haven't always seen eye to eye with this association. I was on their e-mail list for awhile when I started homeschooling, but felt they were using scare tactics to entice potential new members to join. Rather than use current legal claims and battles to scare the crud out of members and potential members, how about giving pointers that could HELP us toe the line?

Flash forward a few years and, voila, there I was sharing a room with Mr. Jones who provided just that - great information, even-handed treatment from a variety of perspectives - thereby raising my opinion of the organization as a whole.

So what was it he had to say? My favorite discussion of his was focused on his experience dealing with social services inquiries into homeschooling families. He offered the following.

Top 10 Reasons Social Service Investigations Are Conducted (and how to avoid them)

1. Parents aren't teaching the kids. (We call this home education for a reason.)

2. Parents aren't complying with the homeschooling laws in their states.

3. Spanking in public. (While corporal punishment is legal, social workers generally frown on it, and performing said punishment in public tends to raise concerns.)

4. Children playing outside during school hours. (Be discreet. Supervise the children. Everyone needs outdoor time.)

5. Younger children outside unsupervised.

6. Leaving children under age 12 alone in a vehicle. (Do you REALLY have to take them into the post office with you to check the box that's 10 feet from the car door through clear glass windows. It's your call, but, technically, yes, he said.)

7. Failing to keep children well fed, well clothed and clean.

8. Failing to keep your house and yard maintained, clean and uncluttered.

9. Allegations of sexual abuse. (Even if unfounded, the allegations can be devastating, and while the alleged offender may be found innocent, their reputation is forever tarnished.)

10. Parents failing to follow recommended medical care for children. (There are waivers for many treatments and services, but care should be taken on this issue.)

So what do you do if a social worker knocks on your door? Jones says the 4th Amendment banning unreasonable search and seizure applies to social workers, and the 5th Amendment allows any accused to remain silent. Further, social workers may not investigate educational neglect. Unless the worker has a search warrant, there's nothing you have to say to them or show them.

But Jones suggests using some common sense and exercising polite responses. Often, just letting the workers set eyes on your children waylays any suspicion they may have. If a neighbor claims they're never dressed, never fed and locked in the closet, letting the worker see your well-dressed, happy, well-adjusted children may be enough to call them off.

What to Do With That Knock at the Door
1. Get a business card from the worker. It should include his or her name and contact information.

2. Find out the specific allegations. Federal law requires them to provide this at first contact. Ask which children are involved, what specific abuse has been reported. (Don't bother to ask who reported you. They are not required to provide that information.)

3. Do not allow them into your home without a court order.

4. Don't lose your temper. (Doing so would give the worker reason to believe there's an issue.)

5. Don't resist police officers. Ever. You may, however, ask the officers if they have a search warrant or an emergency situation - their two "keys" to accessing your property. Further, Jones advised being respectful and polite while asserting your Constitutional rights.

6. If possible, make audio or video tapes of the interaction at the front door.

7. Don't allow workers to talk to children alone without a court order or a third party present. You have more interest in protecting your children than anyone else. Don't let it go.

8. Let the social worker or police officer see the kids (as noted above).

9. If the allegation is truancy, show your home school affidavit - the paperwork you've completed with the state, school district or other agency overseeing homeschooling in your area.

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  1. Thanks for posting, good advice should this situation ever arise.

  2. Great list. Thanks for sharing it. :)

  3. thanks. We are on the 4th amendment this week. Gavin is loving this Amendment Book with the Supreme Court cases in it. (it's a Critical Thinking Company book called You Decide)
    I'm always having to explain to Connor why he can't climb on the roof in the middle of a school day.. 1st, he shouldn't be up there without his dad, but second- if anyone calls on us and THEN finds out we also homeschool, it'd go very badly.

  4. In our area, homeschoolers are always running around during the day. Maybe I should be grateful that it is a non-issue. Hmm.

  5. Jen,
    Is this guy local? I would say that these guidelines still fall under the umbrella of scare tactics.

    1. neglect and unschooling are different
    2. if homeschooling laws are broken, people should plan on a visit
    3. spanking in public is problematic no matter your schooling choices
    4. I don't see a need for keeping kids in the house from 8-3 HSLDA brings this up a lot. I think this is a scare tactic. Homeschooling is not illegal in CA.
    5. Young children should not be out unsupervised regardless of school status.
    6. The 12 year old rule is outdated. Eleven year olds are able to take babysitting classes through the Red Cross. How is it that an 11 year old can babysit, but not wait in the car. The guideline I've heard is that they need to be old enough to get out and get help if needed. I know that this is not the law in the town where I live. When I called the sheriff about a minimum age for staying home alone, the sheriff told me it was a judgment call and I know my kids best. :)
    7. Obviously no one should neglect their children. It's problematic that anyone would need this info. As a homeschooler, if I knew of anyone who wasn't feeding or clothing their children, you can be sure I'd call CPS. Dirty, well, that varies with activity as the day goes on! :)
    8. CPS will not come because you haven't mowed and you have dishes piling up. They will come if your home is unsafe. Granted, there is a gray area in between.
    9. Allegations of sexual abuse should always be investigated. This has nothing to do with schooling.
    10. The medical care issue actually comes up more at school.

    I think this list may scare new homeschoolers or families considering homeschooling. I'm sure they'll pull out their checkbooks to get HSLDA's support. For me, I'm sticking with HSC. They offer support without the fear or telling me how to vote. I actually got something from an HSLDA member telling me that the healthcare bill would outlaw homeschooling.

    However, I will say that keeping the PSA handy is a good idea.

  6. I agree with it being scare tactics (common TOO HSLDA)
    we are in Cali- not sure if it is an issue- but kids jumping of the house roof is just not a good idea and kids jumping off the house roof combined with homeschooling is probably a recipe for disaster. (we had that whole 'homeschool court case scare' when we were moving here a couple yrs ago. I'm not really sure how homeschool friendly it is here.
    we do lots outside. I just try to keep them from the overly dangerous stuff until my husband is home.

  7. Did I misunderstand? I just thought this was a list of the most common reasons/complaints that results in contact from Social Services. Just a "good to know" kind of thing. I hope it isn't being used to frighten homeschoolers. Homeschooling is legal in California. As long as you homeschool in accordance with the exemptions to compulsory schooling as outlined in the CA Ed Code you have nothing to fear. The water's warm, c'mon in! :)

  8. No, you didn't misunderstand. This WAS a list of the MOST COMMON complaints resulting in social service contacts. He was just saying that if you don't want your educational choices questioned, then perhaps you shouldn't be raising other more critical red flags.

  9. actually, from what I have gathered the 2 yrs here, there is no real 'homeschool' law in California. It is called "private school" we file for a private school affidavit. it's not legally called homeschooling. BUT, what we do (the homeschooling called private school) is legal. if that makes sense.

  10. Right. California does not have a "homeschool law." California has a compulsory attendancce law. Every kid from 6-18 goes to public school unless they fall into one of the exemptions as outlined in the CA Ed Code. ONE of the exemptions is attending a private school. In CA you can establish a private school and enroll your children. Or you can enroll in a public school or public charter school home study program. Or, if you have a CA teaching credential, you can teach your children at home. Those are the exemptions that allow one to teach their children at home.

  11. I read it as, and this is my interpretation, but I read it as, "It is legal to homeschool, but keep the kids inside and beware the boogie man." When I began reading the list, I didn't realize it was HSLDA, but it became apparent as I got further into the list.

  12. Gosh, I was hoping we were so past that fear-based mindset. People were saying that stuff when I started homeschooling in 1992! While we must support our homeschool organizations like CHN and HSC - who vigilantly keep watch and protect our right to homeschool - people need to feel empowered. Be fearless!

  13. I completely get the "no dangerous behaviors when only one adult is home" rule!

  14. It's more 'limited' danger... I'm finally OK with them using the band saw, though I had to stop them from doing it at 7AM when I'm still in bed. I'd like to be fully awake to drive to the ER.

  15. Jen - The points you wrote were a different way of putting exactly what he was saying. THESE are the actions which lead social workers to visit in ANY case. In the context of homeschooling, however, he was merely stating that if you don't want to be visited for ANY reason (and perhaps having your educational choices questioned in the process) these are the things NO one should be doing.

  16. i agree with you! but, children need other children to socialize too... and they can only find it at school. Otherwise in the future they could feel too different from others... even and maybe because they will know more about real life.

  17. Oh, Laurie, my friend! You disappoint me! But this is such a common misconception. Walk with me and we'll talk about it...

    Did all of your friends really come from school? Didn't you take part in other activities through which you made friends? My lifelong friends may have been schoolmates, but we built our foundation on common interests in AFTER school activities - musical groups, sports, other special interest clubs, groups and gatherings that had NOTHING to do with school. (You and I met in a RAIL station! LOL!)

    My girls are active in sports, dance, horseback riding and various other group opportunities that have more to do with sharing real interests than being crammed in a group based merely on birthdate.


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