Kudos to Government Officials Doing Their Job

One constant complaint heard from numerous public school communities contends too many parents are not involved in their child’s education.  Apathy creates discipline and learning problems within the public schools.  It’s a dilemma that is reflected in the dropout rate, as the graduation rate reflects the least success with minorities.  There are many public school employees that are trying to resolve those issues within the schools, and it’s often a fearsome challenge.  Unfortunately, there are many public school authorities who are stepping outside their governmental responsibility boundaries and they are attempting to control Illinois private schools, as well.

One of our Illinois Homeschool Freedom Watch members checked through the 56 Regional Offices of Education websites to fact-check any information regarding homeschooling rights and responsibilities.  Regional Offices of Education are offshoots of the Illinois State Board of Education – a public school organization.

There are many Regional Office sites that had little or no information about homeschooling.  Under the circumstances, we don’t mind that.  The best place to find good homeschooling or private school information would be from private school resources, not public schools. The Regional Offices of Education in the following counties: Adams-Pike, Alexander-Johnson-Massac-Pulaski-Union, North Cook, West Cook, South Cook, Christian-Montgomery, Whiteside, Vermilion, Tazewell, Rock Island, Brown-Cass-Morgan-Scott, Monroe-Randolph, McHenry, Madison, Calhoun-Greene-Jersey-Macoupin, Lasalle, Knox,  Iroquois-Kankakee, Jackson-Perry,  Hendersen-Mercer-Warren, Hancock-McDonough, Hamilton-Jefferson,  and Grundy-Kendall displayed websites that reflected their public school role.  They weren’t requiring homeschoolers to print out a registration form to send to their office and the Illinois State Board of Education Data Analysis & Progress Reporting Department in Springfield.  They weren’t requesting that information because it’s not their statutory responsibility to file private school paperwork in that manner.  Bond-Effingham-Fayette countiesRegional Office of Education Superintendent Mark Drone removed a letter with references to homeschool registration at our request.

The Illinois Homeschool Freedom Watch would like to extend kudos to our government officials who are doing their job.  Particular thanks to Mr. Drone, who removed over-compliant requests regarding homeschoolers from his ROE website, despite the Illinois State Board of Education pursuit of homeschool registrations.

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Regarding Learning Time

Our family has many unrestrained chunks of learning time during our days and evenings.  We have a huge, old tree in our yard that attracts monarchs for an overnight roost every year in the early fall.  We’ve enjoyed the Journey North website for many years, and appreciate that we can follow other butterfly discoveries and migrations around the country, while being able to document ours.  Noticing those amazing beauties and following up by learning more about them just happens with a walk past that tree to close up the chicken house or grab an apple off our trees.

Learning time for homeschoolers is not on the same playing (or financial) field as Average Daily Attendance that is computed in public schools.  The Galesburg article noted the family had ‘official studies’ from nine to noon.   Some people aren’t envisioning the one on one interactions between parent and child regarding their home education studies. They assume homeschoolers are ‘getting away with something’. But that time tends to be direct and efficient. Illinois homeschoolers do not need to follow a public school calendar or school day, and we’re not mandated to do so.  Good public school teachers crave the time and attention we can reserve for our kids, and I’m always amazed at the incredible job some teachers accomplish despite the limitations they endure in classroom management.

But,  further east from Galesburg in DeWitt, McLean and Livingston counties, Regional Office of Education #17 Superintendent Mark Jontry professes that homeschoolers must receive their education “the entire time the public school is in session during a regular school term” .  This claim is incorrect, and can’t be supported by law.

Bond-Effingham-Fayette County Regional Office of Education Superintendent Mark Drone states this in an online letter to homeschoolers:   “your private school is required to provide 880 hours of grade-appropriate instruction during the school year”.   These requirements are not defined in Illinois Compiled Statutes.  105 ILCS 5/26‑1 is a compulsory school age exemption for private and parochial schools and we are not restricted to a public school calendar.

**Update and good news:  Mr. Drone responded in a written response to our concerns.  He has confirmed  removal of an on-line letter to homeschoolers requiring tracking of instruction hours.  We are most appreciative of his prompt response.

Boone-Winnebago County Regional Office of Education Superintendent Fairgrieves states in the lengthy and often incorrect notions on home education that we must follow an “academic term of 176 days with 5 hours of instruction daily or 880 clock hours”.  Most homeschoolers use a much longer learning time, but the ROE does not need notification of such.  For that matter, public schools often have 4 hours of daily instruction time, and still receive tax money compensation

Will County Regional Office of Education Superintendent Bertino-Tarrant also signed off on the claim that homeschoolers must “create a school calendar of 176 attendance days and a daily schedule of 5 hours or more”.  There is no legal requirement for private schools to follow public school attendance rules.  Homeschoolers are exempt from those regulations as we meet our individual family’s needs in education. Our legal responsibility is to ensure that our children are taught the branches of education that correspond to the public schools and that instruction is in the English Language. (Illinois School Code 105 ILCS 5/26‑1: Compulsory school age Exemptions).

ROE 13’s Superintendent Keri Garrett pushes for daytime curfew throughout that area.  In the Centralia Sentinel earlier this year, she stated the following as one of her reasons to pursue homeschoolers:

“We ask that they fill out a registration form, because people do call and ask about children they see out during the day, and the state board is asking for more information.”

Children “out during the day” might be walking to the library, running errands or taking a break from their studies by playing in their yard or playground.  Homeschoolers do not need to register with her office to be out and about during the day.

Even the IL State Board of Education states that “IL law does not set any minimum number of hours per day, or days of instruction per year, for students in private schools”.  Illinois homeschoolers are not restricted to the public school schedule or calendar.

Are those same demands made of other private schools in Illinois? I suspect the answer would be no.  Why do Regional Offices of Education make these over-compliance demands of parents who home educate?  Three hours is plenty of time to cover subjects at home.  It doesn’t include the many hours that are used as learning time outside the home in libraries, museums, field trips or just on a shopping trip with a math task of determining a 20% discount.  It would be a dreadful chore that only a bureaucrat could love in trying to document those hours into a record.  It would certainly take the joy out of spontaneous learning and teaching.  Surely that is not what these education authorities want to accomplish.

Illinois homeschool

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ROE Solutions Project – Letters Sent Out to Regional Offices of Education

Illinois Homeschool Freedom Watch is in action.  A long time homeschooler compiled a Regional Office of Education (ROE) database recording over-compliance demands ROE offices have posted online.  Using that database, a committee (or Gaggle, as we like to call ourselves in non-school terms) put together letters and mailed them out last month.  Just to give an idea of the tone and content, below is a sample letter.  Each of these letters were personalized to the particular Regional Office’s of Education problems that need to be resolved.

Dear ….,

We have observed an increasing number of over-compliance demands against homeschoolers from Illinois Regional Offices of Education and would like to bring specifics to your attention for correction.

It has come to our attention that your office is disseminating incorrect information regarding the rights and responsibilities of homeschoolers in your area.  Illinois Homeschool Freedom Watch was formed in 2006 to help homeschool families navigate and understand legal and legislative issues that concern them.

Our legal responsibility is to ensure that our children are taught the branches of education that correspond to the public schools and that instruction is in the English Language. (Illinois School Code 105 ILCS 5/26‑1: Compulsory school age Exemptions).

Illinois homeschoolers tend to be close-knit, well-networked support communities that also work together to maintain our families’ educational autonomy.  We are now aware of some concerns regarding your Regional Office’s activities and correspondence relating to homeschooling.

  • In the ISBE Legal Memorandum you’ve posted, there are erroneous assumptions.  Homeschools do not need to be monitored any more than any other private school.  There must be just cause to monitor a parent or guardian for not fulfilling the responsibilities laid out in 105 ILCS 5/26-1 exemption requirements. Homeschooling is not educational neglect and does not make one truant.
  • Registration – You ask parents to fill out a registration form.  The actual form does state that the form is voluntary, even though the inference throughout is that the form is mandatory, including a September registration.  There is no need for a Home School Registration Form from ROEs, as there is not mandated homeschool registration.  Again, homeschoolers do not need to be monitored.

We will keep our group members informed about your progress.  We are maintaining a website and blog that reports problems that homeschoolers have in various areas around Illinois.  Please be aware that we check the accuracy of Regional Offices’ of Education information, both on-line and off.

As your Regional Office does not have a favorable rating at this time, please be aware that we are motivated to help improve your ratings.  We look forward to hearing from you by October 15st, 2010, so we can report this to our members.

Very truly yours,

Illinois Homeschool Freedom Watch

Illinois Homeschool Freedom Watch letters were sent to 18 Regional Offices of Education around the state.  Those Regional Offices are: Bond-Effingham-Fayette, Boone-Winnebago, Carroll-JoDaviess-Stephenson, Champaign-Ford, Chicago Public School, Clinton-Marion-Washington, DeKalb, DeWitt-Livingston, McLean, Edwards-Gallatin-Hardin-Pope-Saline-Wabash-Wayne-White, Fulton-Schuyler, Kane, Lake, Lee-Ogle, Marshall-Putnam-Woodford, and Peoria, Sangamon and Will County.  There are 56 Illinois Regional Offices of Education.  Their job responsibilities do not require chasing down homeschoolers to register them in attempt to oversee their private school, which also happens to be their home.  Even the IL State Board of Education acknowledges that ROE “cooperation management” is to “assist the ISBE in the evaluation and recognition of public schools, and private schools who ask to be recognized”.  A government official handing a registration form to homeschoolers telling them they need to fill it out on an annual basis is quite the opposite of asking to be recognized.

Over one third of the ROE offices in 38 counties are requesting intrusive information from Illinois homeschoolers, and it appears that many Regional Offices of Education are systematically attempting to apply their unwarranted policy regarding homeschoolers.  There are more problem Regional Offices of Education, but these are the ones posting on-line demands.  Much of the problem heads straight back to the IL State Board of Education created Illinois Home-School Registration Form that is sent to the Springfield ISBE Data Analysis and Progress Reporting Department.  Homeschoolers do not have to report progress or be analyzed and these forms are not required in Illinois statutes.

There has been no written response from the Regional Offices thus far.  We will continue to follow this issue, track the offices’ information and take action after October 15th if there are no positive results.

If any homeschoolers know of any other problems with Regional Offices of Education besides these addressed here, please contact us and we’ll address it.

What Educational Trends Might Mean to Illinois Homeschoolers

The Northwest Herald had a guest column last February –Trends point to bright future ahead – written by the Asst. Regional Supt of Education for McHenry County:

McHenry County always has featured an excellent and efficient system of public education. Our private schools and home-school tradition are remarkable, too.
The education provided by our community makes a significant difference in the quality and types of opportunities available to our young people as they transition into independence.
The success of our youth should come as no surprise. Our schools work well with our children because they are our schools.

He also wrote this below:

“Perhaps most interesting is the increased interest in virtual education. Currently Illinois has a virtual high school, and Chicago has a virtual charter school. While the Illinois General Assembly has entertained a statewide program of virtual instruction, the states of Kansas and Florida already have them. The flexibility of virtual public school is interesting a surprising number of parents. Parents become the primary facilitators for their child’s instruction as they work through lessons delivered online. The state would be funding a system that would facilitate the education of a child but be delivered by the parent with instructional software.”

This school official had kind words for homeschoolers and other private schools, but the combination of a powerful legislator and a ROE official pushing virtual education with a “home school” legislative twist can give a homeschool advocate an unsettling feeling. See Lobbying to Be Left Alone

DeKalb Regional Office of Education

The DeKalb County ROE has “Home Schooling” listed on the sidebar under Services. I think most homeschoolers don’t consider the Regional Office of Education/ISBE attempts to co-opt homeschooling a particular service.

Here’s what is quoted:

Illinois court decisions have established that a parent may teach his/her own child/children in their home provided that the child’s educational program satisfies the requirements as set forth in the Illinois School Code.

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has an approved Home School Registration form available

I took out the link, as the ISBE needs as little help as possible with their website. What is an “approved Home School Registration form“? Was it approved by our legislators? No, or it would be law. If it’s not law, despite the over-compliance requests of the public school authorities, our private homeschools do not have to register with the Dekalb Regional Office of Education nor the IL State Board of Education. It would be detrimental for homeschoolers to do so.

The Catholic or non-sectarian private school down the road does not fill out Registration forms.  Homeschoolers, as private schools, should not fill out registration forms.  It’s much more personal for us when they’re  honing in on our homes.  They should respect that.   We’re not accountable to the ISBE Data Processing and Progress Reporting department.

One other reason it would be a bad idea is apparent below.   If you don’t have to “Complete All Areas of this Form” and return one copy here and one copy there, and then wonder if a Data Analysis and Progress Reporting department will find more hoops for you to jump through, why do it?

Please Complete All Areas of this Form then

— RETURN one signed copy to:

Tatia Beckwith, Assistant Superintendent
DeKalb County Regional Office of Education
2500 N. Annie Glidden Road, Suite C
DeKalb, IL 60115

— And RETURN one signed copy to:

Illinois State Board of Education
Data Analysis and Progress Reporting
100 N. First Street, S-284
Springfield, IL 62777-0001

This above request for paperwork only feeds a bureaucracy.  Homeschoolers can fulfill our children’s educational well being by taking the time to visit a wonderful museum or park rather than filling out invasive paperwork.  That’s one of the great joys of Illinois homeschooling.

Hamilton-Jefferson County Regional Offices of Education

Hamilton-Jefferson County Regional Office of Education Superintendent Brian Cross was referenced in an early 2010 Centralia Sentinel article regarding homeschooling in the area:

According to Hamilton-Jefferson Counties Regional Superintendent of Schools Bryan Cross, three students were registered this year as homeschooled, down from 15 during the 2008-2009 school year and 26 in the 2007- 2008 school year.

Cross said there is no law requiring that students be registered with ROE, and therefore there may be a greater number of area students who are receiving an education at home.

We can assume the decreased number of registered homeschoolers was the result of informed homeschoolers observing their rights and responsibilities in Illinois. There are no requirements to register with the Regional Offices of Education or the IL State Board of Education.   That appeared to be distressing to Cross, and his public school colleague, Kerri Garrett – Clinton, Marion and Washington County Regional Office of Education Supt.  They started after homeschoolers by pursing daytime curfew ordinances in towns and villages within their regions.

Mt. Vernon passed a truancy curfew ordinance [Section 12.20].  A “bona fide participant in an alternative education or homeschooling program” will have a “defense to prosecution”.  Businesses will also be subject to prosecution if they “allow a minor to be present or to remain upon the premises of the establishment …. during curfew or truancy hours”.  The parent or guardian must take custody of the minor within one hour of them being detained by police, or they shall pay $25/hour.

For example, if a 16 year old homeschooler is walking to the library or work at say 2 pm, and is picked up by police – if the parent or guardian is unavailable -at work,  they will be paying a lot of money for that walk down the street if they don’t drop everything and pick up their teenager at the police station.  Many homeschoolers have been threatened by store clerks or owners who tell them they shouldn’t be out shopping during public school hours in these towns with daytime curfew ordinances. Families who head out for excursions should not pass go, but head straight home.  Seems like businesses would have fought an ordinance like that.  They lose business from homeschoolers, and they face potential prosecution.

DeWitt-Livingston-McLean Regional Office of Education

Since my address is within this Regional Office of Education area, I’ve checked it periodically. I don’t believe I’ve heard of problems stemming from this ROE, and the last I checked a year or so ago, they didn’t have much of an online presence.  But unfortunately, now this ROE  has a sidebar listing “Home School Information“.  Illinois homeschools are private schools, not public schools.  The trend of  IL State Board of Education/Regional Offices of Education on-line contortions throughout the state mis-representing Illinois homeschool rights and responsibilities is distressing.  One wonders what they say to new homeschoolers in face to face discussions, or via the telephone.
When you click that link, it takes you to this page: http://www.roe17.org/district_statistics.php
The quote below is their synopsis, followed by a link to a letter (pdf) signed off by the current ROE Superintendent, Mark Jontry, along with a linked IL State Board of Education Home School Registration Form.
Parents who choose to home school their child are encouraged to register their home school with the Regional Office of Education.  More information about Home Schooling is available in the documents below or by contacting Mary Orff.
Homeschool families should be not a standard piece of public school “statistics”  any more than other private school families.  That protection was preserved in the 1950 Illinois Supreme Court  Levisen ruling.  But, with the encouragement to register homeschoolers – attempting to place private schools under public school jurisdiction, rather than parental oversight –  the IL State Board of Education and the Regional Offices of Education are striving to destroy our autonomy.  Homeschoolers are not required to register, and should not register with the Regional Office of Education, or ISBE.  Those forms go to the ISBE Data Analysis & Progress Reporting Department, whose role is this:   “Analyzes data for policy and planning; coordinates annual reporting on progress related to Board goals and legislative requirements”.  Legislative requirements for homeschoolers do not include registration.  Since schools are suffering from financial losses, these public servants might be planning to bring in more private schoolers to gain more funding from federal and state governmental sources.  Is that what public service should entail?
Private schools have more important and worthy ongoing family and educational projects than delivering forms to bureaucrats intent on limiting their freedoms.  The ROE letter signed off by Superintendent Jontry appears to be a typical form seen in various Regional Offices of Education.  It begins with this:
Parents who choose to educate their children at home are under a legal obligation to meet the minimum requirements stated in the Illinois’ Compulsory Attendance Law (Section 26-1 of the Illinois School Code).  Children should be taught “…the branches of education taught to children of corresponding age and grade in the public schools” and are further obligated to be offered instruction in these core courses in the English language.  The “branches of education” include language arts, mathematics, biological and physical sciences, social sciences, fine arts, and physical development and health.
The *exemption* to the IL Compulsory attendance statute is located in Sec. 26-1 :Compulsory school age-Exemptions. One would have to question the public school branches of education listed in the quote above.  For example, many fine arts public school programs have been dropped, and so public schools do not include all of the “branches of education” listed above.
Here is the next paragraph in the letter:
Please complete the enclosed “Home School Registration” form for the 2009-2010 school year provided by the Illinois State Board of Education regarding the instruction you are providing for your child/children, and return it to the above address.  We will forward a copy to the Illinois State Board of Education.
There is nothing in that paragraph that states their registration form is not required.  This is deceptive, and a typical bullying practice by school authorities.  That form will indeed be sent to the Data Analysis and Progress Reporting Department of the IL State Board of Education.
Further in the letter, this below is stated in an intimidating and unnecessary manner.  Homeschoolers are taking on the education of their children, and are obviously engaged in their children’s lives.  Including truancy as a threat in this letter is unfortunate:
3. Truancy under 105 Illinois Compiled Statutes 5/26 of The School Code states that the Regional Superintendent is responsible for determining which children should be referred to the State’s Attorney as truants for failure to attend a public school in the district of  residence or a private or parochial school.  The children receiving home-schooling  must receive an education corresponding to the age and grade of those children attending a public school the entire time the public school is in session during a regular school term.
If public school children are not attending the schools, they are truant.  There are no time factors or schedules included in the compulsory attendance age exemption statute for private schools/homeschools.  As a matter of fact, many homeschoolers have learning projects and educational schedules throughout the entire year, and various times of day and night, and are not limited by public school schedules.
If, in the judgment of the public school of residence and the Regional Office of Education, the home instructions given by the parent are not “commensurate with the standards prescribed for the public schools”, then the case will be referred for truancy proceedings.  Thereafter, the determination of whether the home instruction is a satisfactory equivalent to a public education can be made by a judge in a truancy hearing.
Oddly, public school instruction is often notcommensurate with the standards prescribed for the public schools“.  But that’s not homeschoolers’ problem.  However, per the Illinois compulsory attendance age exemption: “Any child attending a private or a parochial school where children are taught the branches of education taught to children of corresponding age and grade in the public schools, and where the instruction of the child in the branches of education is in the English language”.
Homeschoolers should teach the branches of education taught for the same age(s) and grade in the public school, and teach it in English.  It seems that public schools have enough problems, without seeking out and bullying homeschoolers.
Illinois homeschoolers are not part of the public school system.  Let’s keep it that way.