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.

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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…

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.

Homeschoolers and Daytime Curfew

Salem folks didn’t back down and a daytime curfew ordinance was not passed. Here’s an excerpt from a WJBD radio article about the police chief’s good sense:

Salem Police Chief Withdraws Support For Proposed Ordinance on Truancy

Campo says there is still a law in place the police department can use to address truant students. “We can approach kids for truancy violations, the proposed ordinance was merely an attempt to get the kids that are truant into the system faster,” he says. “We can still do it the old way, so it doesn’t change what we can do in the least.”

Unfortunately, other communities in Keri Garrett’s ROE didn’t defeat the daytime curfew ordinances.  An area homeschooler said that the villages of Central City and Iuka passed daytime curfew ordinances.

Below is a portion of  Keri Garrett’s ordinance proposal for towns in Clinton, Marion and Washington counties.  Remember too, that homeschoolers generally don’t keep public school hours, and it’s certainly not mandated to do so in Illinois statutes.
Here’s just a piece of the 6 page ordinance proposal:

“Whenever a Police Officer is provided with the information that the minor is enrolled in a private school (home schooled) the officer will check with the parents/guardians and verify this information. This contact information will be forwarded to the Regional Office of Education #13 in Salem.”

Besides the basic freedom of movement rights any law-abiding citizen should have, the only (bad) reason that contact information should be sent to the ROE by a law officer is to track down homeschoolers.
I assume that Central City and Iuka passed this 6 page monster w/o any changes.  Central City has one grade school, and I’m not sure that Iuka has an active school building in its community.   Did it get passed because they didn’t have a heads up, or they just didn’t think it was a problem?

A Centralia article is posted here, regarding ROE #13’s attitude about homeschooling.  It also included information about ROE #25, based in Mt. Vernon and McLeansboro.

Need Help – Regional Office of Education Compilation regarding homeschooling

Please pass this along in its entirety to any pro-active homeschooling party(ies)
Hello Illinois homeschooling friends,
It might seem like a contradiction to be compiling ROE information about homeschooling, since the public school authorities should have little or no involvement with us private schools.
We’re in the process of putting together a compilation of Regional Offices of Education attempts to infringe on homeschooling rights.  Those attempts include the misinformation on their websites, and we’d like to note all problems -if any – with our ROEs.  Most of the websites refer back to their overseer, the IL State Board of Education site, which has unfortunately created a Homeschool Registration Form.
It’s time to put out the little and big fires to protect all homeschoolers, including new ones who are just learning about their rights and responsibilities as an Illinois homeschooler.  Names and personal details will not be used, unless you allow them to be used.  (The point of this project is to protect homeschoolers, not expose them to more problems.)
Please take a moment and search for your Regional Office of Education information, and see what is there.  Page 4 of this IL State Board of Education pdf lists the ROE offices/websites and contact information.
If you don’t see a homeschooling section in the site at first glance -often in the side bar- we’ve found using a search engine might pull up some hidden information from the Regional Office.  You can try using phrasing in the search box such as: “Chicago public school district, home-school, Homeschool, home school”.   In the above example, use your local Regional Office name in place of “Chicago public school district”, unless you live in Chicago.
There are 56 Regional Offices, so we have some work to do.  Let’s all work together to protect the wonderful freedoms we have in Illinois.
Please email the information to either of the following email addresses:
hmshlroeinfo@sbcglobal.net or ILhomeschoolfreedom@gmail.com
Or call 309-928-7198 (Susan) with any information.   Please join our homeschool advocacy group; Illinois Homeschool Freedom Watch.
Many hands make light work.”
Sincerely,
Deborah Niemann-Boehle and Susan Ryan – Co-founders
Please pass this along in its entirety to any pro-active homeschooling party(ies)