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.

Letting ‘kids be kids’

The Register-Mail had an an article about local Knox County homeschoolers this past weekend.

Cramer taught kindergarten in Galesburg for a few years before she began home-schooling her kids fulltime, so she has educational experience. But she said the amount of resources available to home-school families gives all parents the opportunity to home-school, even if they have no educational background.
“You’ve just got to have that desire to want to be with your kids all day long,” Cramer said.
The family didn’t plan to home-school before Cramer and her husband had kids, but once she tried it, she kept at it.
“It’s such a nice, flexible schedule,” she said. The day starts at 9 and ends around noon, and each child works either on his or her own in a workbook, or as a group.

It appears that nine to noon works well for this homeschool family.  It’s often hard for public school administrators to understand that our flexible schedule not only works, but we’re not mandated to be on a public school schedule.  We’re addressing this problem with public school officials, even as the Cramer family provided a nice example of their working schedule in this article.  Each homeschooling family has the luxury of finding a schedule that works for them, and running with it.

The journalist, Lauren Rees, wrote this concerning Illinois homeschooling legalities:

Illinois home-schooling laws are few. The State Board of Education requires students to get an education equivalent to public schooling, including learning language arts, mathematics, biological and physical sciences, social sciences, fine arts, physical development and health. Other than that, parents are free to decide “the manner, time and materials which best suit the learning needs” of their kids, according to the SBE.

There is a private school exemption to the Illinois compulsory attendance statute, and  Illinois homeschoolers are considered private schools per a 1950 IL Supreme Court ruling.  Homeschooling is not a specific reference in that statute exemption, but “private or parochial” schools are referenced.

This was also in the article:

Cramer said the home-school population in the area is active. Only eight home-school students are registered with the Knox County Regional Office of Education, but between 10 and 15 home-school teens show up at Galesburg Public Library-sponsored events. Since state laws are lax, it’s possible that not every home-schooled child is registered.

Illinois state laws regarding private schools are not lax. The minimal law documentation offers great freedoms for families choosing a private school alternative to public schools.  Illinois statutes do not require registration with the Regional Offices of Education or the IL School Board of Education, despite their efforts to register all homeschoolers.  We have better things to do and places to go (field trips), rather than filling out intrusive forms every year to satisfy a public school bureaucrat.  Surely the public school officials have more useful tasks than chasing down private school families.

The reasons given for homeschooling in Galesburg describes many homeschool families’ reasons:

The Cramers home-school because they like letting the “kids to be kids.”

“They have time to explore what interests them. They have time for creative play,” Cramer said. “They don’t have to stress about a hard test coming up or peer pressure. They don’t have to spend hours on homework after they’ve spent hours in school.”

Public School Withdrawal Audits

Texas homeschooling rights are similar to Illinois home education legalities.  Per a Texas Supreme Court ruling, homeschoolers in Texas are considered private schools the same as any brick and mortar private school building in the state.  The 1950 Board vs Levisen IL Supreme Court ruling determined our Illinois private school status as homeschoolers.  There have been other similarities with Texas along the way.  But the IL State Board of Education hasn’t called for an audit as the Texas Education Agency has.

The Texas Education Agency audited more than 22,000 public school withdrawal records to determine whether the transfers were intending to homeschool -as the records indicated, or whether public school officials had jimmied the records in a manner to keep the dropout rate down in their school districts.

In an attempt to ensure that public school districts aren’t disguising high school dropouts, the Texas Education Agency is conducting an audit of students who withdrew under the auspice of home schooling. …… More than 22,620 Texas secondary students were listed as withdrawing to home-school in 2008 — raising a red flag among some experts and educators who worry that Texas’ lax regulations are encouraging abuse in the hands-off home-schooling category. The 2008 figures reflect a 24 percent jump from the prior year and roughly triple the number of high school home-schooling withdrawals from a decade ago.

The Houston Chronicle published the article quoted above earlier this month [High number of home-schooled students leads to state audit JENNIFER RADCLIFFE Sept. 2, 2010].  The quote calls the Texas homeschooling rights “lax regulations”, but that is an unfortunate description.  Our rights aren’t lax, they’re free of bureaucracy.  And homeschoolers are not responsible for the lax accountability of public school officials. Other than the tax monies expended.  Tim Lambert has it right.

The Texas Home School Coalition applauds the state’s efforts to crack down on public school districts who are “dumping” dropouts in the home-schooling category. Although the group strongly opposes government involvement in home schooling, it acknowledges that this audit is not being conducted to reproach families who are educating their children at home. “School administrators are violating the policy and causing these problems,” coalition president Tim Lambert said. “The solution is, in our view, to put in place some sort of penalties for school officials who are abusing this process.”

Firing tax paid officials doing this doesn’t seem out of the question.  I’ve seen this process used  in at least two different Illinois school districts, and the brush off of those students and families was not intended to be in the kids’ best interests.

In Illinois, school authorities have contorted the issue into a “no-school” problem,  trying to draw homeschoolers into their net.  It’s odd and disturbing.  Clinton-Marion-Washington County Regional Office of Education Supt. Keri Garrett seems to have gone a different direction and invented a truancy problem, suggesting she must have daytime curfew ordinances because : “Instead of figuring out the problem, they’ll [parents] yank the child out because they’re not old enough to drop out and tell me they’re going to homeschool”.    She wrote up daytime curfew ordinances for various towns in her area that call for town authorities to report any homeschoolers to her office, if they are stopped and questioned while out and about during ‘school hours’.  As private schools, Illinois homeschoolers are not restricted by the public school schedule or calendar.  They are also not required to report to bureaucrats.)   She attempted pushing this ordinance in Salem and Salem homeschoolers fought back. The ordinance was dropped.  I should mention that in 2009, Salem had a .2 % chronic truancy rate.  That’s just one example emanating from one Regional Office of Education.

Some similar questions about artful public school dodging have arisen from some of our neighbors to the east. Richmond, Indiana’s high school received the Lugar Education Patriot Award from their Senator Lugar heralding the school’s apparent change in status from a 2007 “dropout factory”.  In 3 years, their graduation rate has increased from 56% to 80%, and I’m sure all schools officials want to know their secret.

The leap in the school’s reported graduation rates has not come without some heightened scrutiny and concern, including from one school board member.
Longtime board member David Stidham, who is serving in his final term, questioned during a board meeting last November how a reported increase in home-schooled students has impacted dropout rates.
Students who transfer from one school to another, as with those who choose home schooling, do not count against graduation rates but dropouts do.

Seems to be a pattern.

Homeschool advocate, Ben Bennett (Indiana Home Education Network), asks on his blog:

The question is: will the attacks on the homeschooling community come before the facts about the tactics of Government Schools are known?

The attacks on the Illinois homeschooling community are here.  Looks like Texas is trying to deal with the issue, the Indiana Education Agency seems to be ignoring it, and Illinois school authorities are trying to restrict homeschooling rights because of some public school system twists and turns.  The time is now to fight back.  Stay tuned…

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.