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A View From Home
By Cyndy Rodgers
The time we designate as "Summer" is quickly coming to an end. I say "designate" because our family does not see Labor Day as the last beach day and then the next day is Algebra class. Here in California the weather will be warm for at least two more months, so for homeschoolers an afternoon escape to the ocean is a real possibility.

The other day, as I found myself face to face with the back-to-school supplies that now monopolize my local discount store, I had this thought: I too shared in the jovial anticipation of summer ending along with many other parents. I found this to be a bit ironic that I was experiencing a similar emotion yet for a completely opposite reason. For I am looking forward to the rest of the world going back to their routines so I can enjoy a less crowded environment. Admit it . . . the freedom to seize the day is one of the best perks of homeschooling.

We all crave freedom. We want freedom from bureaucracy, freedom from monotony, the freedom to turn an ordinary weekday into an adventure. This kind of freedom often depends upon being in the right place at the right time. For some lucky families they find themselves living in states where the freedom to homeschool is being protected.

In Tennessee for example, House Bill 1982 sponsored by Rep. Bobby Wood and its companion Senate Bill 1909 sponsored by Senator Jim Bryson would expand the definition of "home school" to permit family members, other than parents, to conduct a homeschool. Rep. Wood and Sen. Bryson understand the necessity to protect freedom. This legislation introduced February 26th of this year is now in committee. This legislation is a step towards more families being able to create their own destiny. Another state creating legislation to give homeschool families more freedom is New York. Assembly Bill 4598 is, in their words, "Designed . . . to simplify the regulation of procedures and standards regarding home instruction. Lawmakers believe modifying the current regulations on home instruction could reduce administrative burdens for the homeschooling family, the local school district, and the State Education Department." Sounds like a win-win deal to me. This bill will be part of the 2004 legislative session.

If all of these bills sound like no big deal, then contrast this with Oregon where lawmakers drafted Senate Bill 761. This bill would have expanded the educational options for homeschoolers. Its wording was as follows:

"— a child may be educated by the parent or legal guardian or at the direction of a parent or legal guardian, thereby permitting parents or guardians to appoint someone else to conduct some or all of the instruction"

SB 761 also repealed the requirement that parents notify the public school officials of their decision to homeschool as well as repealing the testing requirements of the homeschool law, except for students participating in interscholastic activities at a public school. It also would have removed the requirement that the education service district or school district determine that a child under 18 is being homeschooled in order to get a driver's license. All of this died on June 16,2003 when Governor Ted Kulongoski vetoed the bill. Senator Bruce Starr's bill passed the Oregon Senate and House of Representatives by healthy margins, but there were not enough votes in the House to attempt an override of the Governor's veto.

Since Oregon first enacted its homeschool law in 1985, several efforts have been made to provide more freedom to parents. The most recent amendment that reduced the state's oversight of homeschooling families was in 1999. Another attempt with a similar bill is planned for the legislative session in 2005. So Oregonites get ready for a fight!

For proof that putting up a good fight pays off, look to Maryland. Last December the Board of Education introduced changes to homeschool regulations. The next day they decided to table any implementations of new regulations until February. This time they asked six representatives from the local homeschool arena to attend two meetings with representatives from both local and state public education.

On the 24th of June the Maryland Board of Education adopted changes to its current homeschool regulations. The new rules, supported by the majority attending the meeting, are first, a clarification to the "Notice of Consent" requirement. Now it only needs to be filed once instead of once a year. So if you previously filed a Notice of Consent for your student, you will not need to file a new or "updated" one ever again. Additionally, in each subsequent year, from the original filing, notification to the supervising non-public institution or the local superintendent is all that is required. It need only state whether the child will continue in a home instruction program or not. Maryland families can do this by any method: In person, by phone, or letter or email.

This is a vast improvement to what was proposed last year. Originally the Department threatened to adopt a rule requiring that every homeschool family file the Notice of Consent form every year. Maryland homeschoolers protested. Last winter approximately 85 homeschoolers voiced their objections during the public comment portion of the December 3rd meeting. The outcome of that meeting was an agreement by department leaders to discuss the issues with these homeschool representatives. Consensus was achieved to all modifications, including some nice revisions to the Homeschool registration form like labeling it "confidential", requiring only month and year of birth instead of actual birth date and renaming the form "Homeschooling Notice".

Additional changes are directed at parents who homeschool under county supervision and decide to switch to a non-public institution, i.e. church umbrella program. These families must notify the local superintendent. Likewise for families who are currently homeschooling with a non-public or church program and decide to switch to either a different non-public or go back to public supervision of the local superintendent, they must notify the current non-public (church) program.

For non-public or Church umbrella programs, parents are required to give the local superintendent the names of families that are homeschooling with them, as well as who has discontinued being under their supervision. These are still the rules but they are less restrictive than originally planned.

Another state where homeschoolers may find themselves with a little more freedom this fall is Delaware. Senate Bill 103 was introduced in May and passed both houses at he end of June. SB 103 was drafted from findings from a committee report. SB 103 changes the definition of homeschool to be included as non-public schools, as well as creating three types of homeschooling. This allows students who are educated in one of the defined types of homeschooling to be exempt from the public school compulsory attendance requirement. SB 103 clarifies the enrollment and attendance reporting requirements for non-public schools. The three types of homeschooling are defined as; 'Single-family homeschool', 'Multi-family homeschool' and a 'Single-family homeschool coordinated with the local school district'. For more details go to How innovative of Delaware to see that Homeschooling takes many forms!

This summer, while out doing fun and creative things, we found ourselves mingling with kids who are normally tucked away in public schools. These vacationing public schoolers were often surprised when the topic of our homeschooling emerged. Many thought they knew a single definition that completely defined us. Most had the same reaction -- you know it, and I know you have encountered the same response. It's THAT same question. Should we all repeat it in chorus? "What about their Socialization?"

In other words "I thought all home-schoolers were mole people who stayed attached to their kitchen table." Some were surprised when I demonstrated knowledge of happenings around town, interesting educational programs in the community, and knowledge of adventures available to help enforce the scope and sequence for each of my children's grades.

These non-homeschooling parents feel assured that their children are on the right road, even if academically they struggle in classrooms with a 30 to 1 ratio. There is a sense of confidence that John or Jane will know how to make a social connection from their years in this institution.

I can hear many of you out there challenging this idea. For me I make it a policy never to make parents feel badly about their choice to send their kids to school. I think being supportive, living well and having fun is a better philosophy. However, the idea that public schools are good places for kids to get social skills I find humorous. Let's take a socio-economic, same race, age and often, same gender, group of kids and give them twenty minutes of supervised interaction where they compete for limited resources and you get "socialization." My family "did" public school for three years in a good neighborhood school that had won a national blue ribbon. Teachers decided when children could talk and whom they could talk to for most of the six hours. In my son's last class, children were placed in boy/girl order to keep socializing to a minimum. Four hand signals were required to express yourself verbally in the classroom. And playground time was either a reward or punishment where a hundred children fought for one ball and two swings.

The real tragedy of this philosophy is that the movement to include children who are younger and younger is growing. Little kids don't have the self-esteem or wisdom to navigate the negative consequences of too many kids and not enough freedoms. Still, several states have lowered the age at which a child is required to go to school.

Numerous bills to lower the compulsory school attendance age are close to being law in their respective states. In Pennsylvania, House Bill 1221 lowers the age from eight years old to six years old and raises the age from 17 to 18 years of age. In Illinois, House Bill 3811 lowers the age a child must begin school from 7 to 5 years of age. In May it went to the Rules Committee where it sits until the next legislative session. In Tennessee, Senate Bill 30 will also lower the age from six to five. The bill is now in committee.

HB 1221 has the support of Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell, as well as most of the state legislators. So without some opposition it will become law.

Laws to lower the age and in some cases to extend them, expands the state's opportunity to monitor families and inflict its judgment over a child's parents' judgment.

I believe the driving force behind these efforts to keep kids longer under government control has more to do with what works for the business community than what is appropriate for a child's development. The sooner, and longer, public education has them, the less need for daycare. It saves both working parents and business, money.

Here in California, the Department of Education wants children as young as possible. The ultimate goal is universal preschool. This year the California legislature is debating Assembly Bill 56, which lowers the age a child must be in school from age six to age 5, which now mandates kindergarten.

Previously, parents had the option of giving a child another year to mature before starting formal instruction. Many child-development advocates recommend mothers of boys to think about taking this option because it allows boys time to mature before having to spend long periods of time on small motor tasks. In other words give them more running, climbing and bouncing time.

Currently AB56 has passed the Assembly Education Committee and has been assigned a hearing with the Assembly Appropriations Committee. This bill is only a first step to the Universal Preschool plan, which mandates preschool for three and four-year-olds. Soon a Department of Education representative will be stalking the halls of hospital Nurseries.

Opponents to this bill are asking everyone in California who is against this change in the law (AB 56) to write your State Senator and Assembly Member. Because this affects all children -- not just home schooled children -- identify yourself as a parent or citizen. Other steps toward its defeat include rallying neighbors, friends and church or other groups with which you may have access.

Proponents of the Universal preschool are convinced that children will not only achieve more academically but the true benefit of removing a three-year-old from his or her parent is so s/he can be socialized. There it is again, the infamous "socialization" that makes for a happy and well-balanced society. (?!)

AB 56 states: "There is a further compelling need in California to ensure that early childhood development programs and services are universally and continuously available for children so that children enter school in optimum health and are emotionally well developed and ready and able to learn . . . Therefore, it is the intent of the Legislature to provide . . . universal preschool programs that offer group experiences, developmentally appropriate curricula, and allow for a seamless integration to K-12 education for all children three and four years of age." The research I have read actually advises delaying structured learning until seven or even eight.

This bill supports the idea that in the eighteen years a child spends with his/her immediate family, only three years will be with their parent as the primary influence. Five days a week, four hours a day the child will spend with a state-appointed adult. That frightens me, not for my children but for all children.

How can a child get what s/he needs for emotional development from a paid stranger watching 20 other children?

The bill contradicts its intent when it states, "Children who have secure relationships with family members . . . can become self-confident learners." We have learned from research that there is no such thing as "quality time" It's quantity time that establishes bonds. How are children supposed to build a secure relationship when the state either encourages or requires them to spend more time away from their parents? Our only hope is that (current) Governor Gray Davis will be busy for awhile and the $38-billion state deficit may keep lawmakers from adding more children to the budget.

Georgia may understand the importance of waiting to start school. House Bill 406 raises the age children must begin school from 6 to 7 years. However this same legislature is raising the age children must stay in school. House Bill 179 changes the age from 16 to 17 years old. Georgia is still fairly friendly to homeschoolers, with House Bill 337 offering a $250 tax credit and House Bill 985 allowing students to have dual enrollment in homeschooling and college courses. All of these bills will be on the 2004 legislative calendar in January.

Another state helping homeschoolers is Texas. House Bill 214 and its companion, Senate Bill 412 allows homeschooled students to participate in public school activities. Representative Brian McCall's bill is currently in committee. As for Senator Florence Shapiro's SB 412 it has been referred to the senate committee chair. This legislation allows homeschooled students the chance to play in an orchestra, play with a team and sing in a chorus while still getting a super education with one-on-one teaching. Hail to the politician who "gets it"! School is not the only way our kids develop socialization. -- C.R.