A $2,000 bill just to process homeschool paperwork in New York? A threatening letter from a school district in West Virginia, stating that a student would be required to re-enroll in public school for “noncompliance”?
In both these instances confronting homeschool families, a nonprofit made all the difference in providing legal advocacy and a quick end to disagreements.
“Swift and positive resolution of conflicts like this is exactly what our legal team strives for,” wrote Michael Donnelly, an attorney for Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). “We want our members to have confidence and peace of mind.”
Defending the process to withdraw
As homeschooling numbers continue to rise nationwide, HSLDA is helping defend parents’ freedoms as they withdraw their children from public schools.
A recent Fox News report estimated that 10 million children are currently homeschooling in the U.S., compared to nearly 5 million before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jamie Gaddy, editor-in-chief of Homeschool.com and mom to six, said she decided to homeschool after 15 years of being a teacher herself.
“It’s really exciting when you see a child absolutely turned on to learning and just loving it because that education matches them,” she said.
However, parents who choose homeschooling can sometimes experience harassment from public school districts even if they have completed all the requirements needed to withdraw their children.
One family had moved from Oregon to West Virginia after concerns about their physical safety.
“It was no longer possible for us to live peacefully in Portland,” the father told HSLDA in an interview. “The crime was getting so bad in our area of the city—a person was shot and killed right outside our townhome.”
The family had submitted all the documentation needed to homeschool and received acknowledgment from their county school board, but an unwelcome surprise awaited them later in the year.
“I was shocked to receive the letter from the school board saying they were re-enrolling my son in the school because they didn’t have an assessment for the third grade,” the father said. “We had not placed our son in third grade, and we had never ‘enrolled’ him in the school anyway, so I was really astonished.”
Another family in New York received a surprise bill for $2,000 after submitting a notice of intent to homeschool their two high school students.
“Officials at Highlands Falls-Fort Montgomery Central School District informed the parents that because the father is stationed at the nearby US Military Academy at West Point, they would have to cover the costs of processing homeschool paperwork,” HSLDA attorney Thomas Schmidt wrote in a recent article.
The challenge arose over the family’s involvement with West Point, which has two Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) schools.
As Schmidt discovered upon investigation, the DoDEA’s contract with the Highlands Falls-Fort Montgomery Central School District listed a $1,000 charge for the supervision of any DoDEA eligible student who was homeschooled.
“For whatever reason, when our member family submitted their paperwork to the district, school officials assumed that the family was not DoDEA eligible and therefore charged the family $2,000,” Schmidt explained.
After both families reached out to HSLDA, they experienced a swift resolution to their respective challenges.
Donnelly wrote a cease-and-desist letter to the school district in West Virginia, which responded with an apology the morning after he sent it.
“It’s refreshing to see a county board of education lawyer quickly grasping the law, taking immediate corrective action, and sincerely desiring a good relationship with local homeschoolers,” Donnelly wrote.
Likewise, Schmidt contacted the West Point school liaison officer, who agreed to contact the district on the family’s behalf.
“After verifying that the family was stationed on base and that their students are DoDEA eligible, the district dropped the $1,000-per-child charge,” he wrote.
HSLDA encourages families to contact their legal team anytime they encounter situations that may threaten their right to homeschool. Parents can also find and join local groups in their area that are part of the association’s national network.