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Count Day Walkout Plans Leave Homeschoolers as Monkey In the Middle

You may recall the common playground game of Monkey In the Middle. When among good-natured friends, it is an amusing pastime at recess. However, even among friends, it becomes tedious and frustrating when one individual is constantly tasked as the “monkey.” This is the current situation of homeschooling in Indiana. 

Two years ago, before the pandemic, Chalkbeat published an article about public and public charter schools mislabeling dropouts as homeschoolers. Presumably, the motivation for such actions was to protect the interests of the schools by inflating graduation rates and suppressing dropout numbers. Incredulously, the schools and Chalkbeat pointed the finger at the lack of homeschool regulation, despite the fact that the schools were the only ones who knew the students involved. 

 For the duration of the last two legislative sessions, legislators have been working to discourage the “push-out” problem within the schools. Simple logic makes it clear where the abuse of the system lay, and it was not with homeschool families. Kudos to the General Assembly for recognizing it. 

Today, there is an entirely new segment of the population who wish to use our homeschool freedom for political advantage while never intending to homeschool.

The pandemic has revealed serious problems within the education system to parents. Quite rightly, those parents are angry and wish to effect change for their children. Unfortunately, sclerotic administrations and recalcitrant elected officials are shutting down the rising voices of parents and taxpayers. 

School board tone-deafness is leading some parents to contemplate other ways to get administrators’ attentions. Across the state, a recurring theme crops up. Frustrated parents are discussing the idea of withdrawing their children from public school to “homeschool” them for one week in September in an effort to impact their school’s enrollment count for the fall semester. If a child is not enrolled in the public school on September 17, 2021, the school cannot claim the students for the purposes of funding. These same parents would “homeschool” their child(ren) for a week or two and then re-enroll the child(ren) into the same school system. 

This is a problematic plan on a number of fronts. 

IAHE Action encourages any family who earnestly seeks to pursue homeschooling to do so. Our sister organization, IAHE, has been supporting families as they begin their homeschool journey since 1983. Volunteers are standing by to assist you. 

For those looking to provoke change in the public school system through decreased funding, take a moment to contemplate the lasting impact and what that might mean for families who genuinely decide to homeschool because their children need a different environment.

If playing fast and loose with the education of children is not incentive enough, consider what will happen to the students reentering a public school system that has suddenly lost millions of dollars to fund teachers and programs. The schools will be forced to make cuts to extracurriculars, Fine Arts, P.E., librarians, etc. and these will all come at the expense of the students. This impact will hit especially hard on the students with special education needs. 

Stripped of funding, publicly-funded schools will be forced to make changes, but there is no reason to think it will be the changes desired. In an attempt to quell such behavior in the future, increased regulation may be hoisted upon the homeschoolers. The pressure to require heavier regulation and jump through more hoops with government oversight will intensify dramatically thereby depriving families in legitimate need of homeschooling the liberty to do so with the current system. 

Change can happen, but it will not happen overnight

The Framers of our Constitution gave us the ability to hold our government accountable. This leveling agent is called Election Day. Frustrated parents should aim their efforts toward meaningful change by finding candidates who share their concerns, work for those candidates, or even consider running for School Board yourself. 

Consider the kid on the playground continually forced into being the monkey in the middle. It’s not their choice. The bigger kids on either side create the situation. If just one of the bigger kids walked away, there would be no monkey in the middle. 

DONATE NOW to IAHE Action to support ongoing efforts to protect your homeschooling and parental rights.

What about France?

In an attempt to enforce secular values, on July 21, 2021, France instituted severe restrictions on home education. 

“Homeschooling (IEF) will only be authorized for reasons of health, disability, artistic or sports practice, family homelessness, remoteness. of an establishment, and also in the event of a “situation specific to the child motivating the educational project”. A transition period is planned until the 2024-2025 school year.”

The specifics of “authorized reasons” have yet to be determined. 

Parents who do apply to homeschool must submit documentation to their local town hall and the academic director of the national education services are subject to investigation by local Social Services. Those that are declined or found to be homeschooling without approval are subject to jail time of up to 6 months. 

Unlike the American Constitution, the current French Constitution was crafted to be a secular document. Since the time our country adopted the United States Constitution, France has had fifteen different Constitutions with the most recent iteration being adopted in 1958. This 1958 Constitution states, “France is an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic, guaranteeing that all citizens regardless of their origin, race or religion are treated as equals before the law and respecting all religious beliefs.” Many individuals may prefer the secular language found within the French governing documents; however, if the government is secular, all people derive their rights from the government. In fact, there are legal theorists who argue the law confers parenthood upon people, not God. A government big enough to give parental rights is big enough to take them away. 

In contrast, the American Constitution is built around the framework that God grants individual rights the government cannot, under any circumstances, deprive of a person. Since the writing of the Magna Carta in 1215, children have legally been considered given unto parents, not the State or government. In the Christian worldview, children belong to God and as such cannot be considered “property” in a legal sense. God has appointed parents with the duty to raise, protect, and educate children in trust to Him. It was upon this philosophy that American parental rights have rested for the majority of our Nation’s history. So long as parenthood is understood to be granted from an entity that predates the civil contract of the People, parental rights are secure. 

Unfortunately, courts have been eroding this security for decades. Among the first limitations on parents’ rights was compulsory education. Prior to the introduction of this concept, education was strictly left to the parents to determine. However, once public schools, which were not free to families, began, there have always been advocates for requiring all children to be educated under the government umbrella. In fact, the famous Pierce v. Society of Sisters dashed progressive dreams of all American pupils in government school desks when it ruled parents had a right to place children in private schools. 

This decision rested on the legal philosophy of a parent’s natural right given by God to direct their children. Once natural rights are abandoned, so too are our rights to raise and educate our children as we see fit. Regrettably, recent legal theory is not necessarily parent-friendly as is evidenced by the misguided article, “Homeschooling: Parent Rights Absolutism vs. Child Rights to Education and Protection” by Morris Wasserstein Public Interest Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Child Advocacy Program, Elizabeth Bartholet. 

By declaring its government as secular, France has divorced parental rights from natural law. As the new arbiter of rights, the French government can quite easily remove a parent’s right to direct a child’s education as is evidenced by this recent decree. 

While these steps by the French government seem foreign to us, it is an excellent reminder that homeschooling freedom is not guaranteed. French homeschoolers are appalled to watch their freedoms vanish. In Indiana, IAHE Action, along with our sister organization IAHE, is on the front lines of protecting your parental rights and homeschool freedom. You can help keep Indiana families free from potential regulation and government overreach when you donate to support our work.

DONATE NOW to IAHE Action to support ongoing efforts to protect your homeschooling and parental rights.

2021 Legislative Wrap-up

Every year, IAHE Action and our sister organization IAHE, monitor threats to homeschool freedom. There is no better way to describe the challenges of the past year than the opening of Pandora’s Box. While the entire world looked at home education with wide-eyed awe and innocence, the long-term impact on our community and our freedom is yet to be determined. Everyone claimed the label of “homeschooler” in spite of clear legal definitions to the contrary. 

Pandora’s box is an artifact in Greek mythology connected with the myth of Pandora in Hesiod’s Works and Days. It can be best summarized as “a present which seems valuable but which in reality is a curse”.

By the Numbers

The IAHE Action team sorted through 420 Senate and 1605 House bills to identify issues that required monitoring. Eighty-five bills were flagged for further review and approximately 40 bills were followed closely throughout the session. Every amendment to these 40 bills was examined, and every hearing and committee meeting was monitored. The team was on-call and ready to respond should anything arise of concern. Many late nights were spent monitoring committee meetings, shifting meeting calendars, and reading proposed amendments. Our team also spent many hours on Zoom and at the Statehouse with legislators, in the effort of protecting homeschool freedoms. 

Highlights

MEETING WITH DR. KATIE JENNER

In November 2020, our team met with Dr. Jenner from the Governor’s office to discuss numerous concerns that we have repeatedly addressed with the Department of Education in recent years. Shortly following our meeting, Dr. Jenner became Indiana’s first Secretary of Education. Our team has continued to work closely with her and her team over the past couple of months.

SBOE BOARD MEETINGS

While monitoring Indiana State Board of Education meetings, IAHE found that the audit results regarding excessive dropouts being classified as homeschoolers conducted in the summer of 2020 were adjusted during the January 2021 SBOE board meeting. IAHE contacted the SBOE legal counsel for an explanation, resulting in IAHE being invited to have a seat at the table as the issue is yet again addressed this summer as the SBOE tries to hold schools accountable for continually misclassifying dropouts as homeschoolers in order to retain ADM funds.

HB 1073 NONACCREDITED NONPUBLIC DIPLOMA – FAILED

Rep. Tim Wesco introduced a bill to make nonpublic nonaccredited diplomas legal. IAHE responded immediately to Rep. Wesco stating that nonpublic nonaccredited diplomas are ALREADY legal according to Indiana Code. For years, the IAHE has helped families address issues of diploma discrimination by potential employers, and while we wish these situations didn’t exist at all, a diploma equivalency bill is only beneficial if it doesn’t open the door to potential regulations at the same time. After multiple revisions of language with IAHE, language backed by HSLDA, Rep. Wesco pulled the bill for this session and invited us to work with him this summer on new language. 

HB 1278 DAYS OF INSTRUCTION – FAILED

Rep. Chris Judy introduced a bill to enable public schools to count time of instruction vs. the current days of instruction. IAHE contacted Rep Judy and explained that this would affect homeschoolers as we are to follow our local school rules on days of instruction. Rep Judy, a homeschooling dad, did not realize this and pulled the bill for the session. 

SB 259 PARENTAL RIGHTS – PASSED

SB 259, introduced by Sen. David Niezgodski, specifies it is the policy of the state to recognize the parenting rights of a parent regardless of whether the parent has a disability. IAHE concerns themselves with all parental rights bills. Parental rights are the foundation of home education. This bill passed and while home education was not directly mentioned, this bill shores up the rights of parents with disabilities. 

MISCELLANEOUS REPEAT BILLS

IAHE monitors various bills that continue to pop up every year, such as cursive writing, the start of school year, and compulsory school age. While all of these bills failed again, the IAHE team monitored them all the way to the end to ensure that the bills do not affect homeschoolers. One bill that did not die this year was a bill requiring public schools and accredited private schools to teach civics education. IAHE made sure the bill did not affect home educators and we applaud the legislature for passing this. Home educators have long agreed with the statement Winston Churchill made (paraphrasing George Santayana) when he said “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”

HB 1531 DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN’S SERVICES – PASSED

In January, our team began monitoring HB 1531 due to severely problematic language that would codify the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) regulatory policy with regards to exigent circumstances. The original language of the bill would have required home educators to allow DCS agents into our homes because our homes are our schools. Despite voicing our strong concern, the bill passed out of the House in mid-March.

Once the bill moved to the Senate, IAHE Action began working with the bill’s sponsor, Senator Erin Houchin. Senator Houchin acknowledged the problematic nature of the terms used in the bill and agreed to improve it. The intent of the bill was to provide parents, who send their children to brick and mortar schools, more rights than they are currently afforded. Current DCS policy allows workers to show up at schools and request to interview a child without a warrant and school personnel generally allow the interview to occur without objection. As such, the goal is to limit the ability of DCS to demand access to children through the school system. 

In March, IAHE Action issued a call to action to encourage members of the Senate Committee on Family and Children Services to exempt home educators’ homes from the legislation. The quick response of our members meant legislators were open to amending H.B. 1531 and the next day, the Senate committee passed IAHE Action’s proposed exemption without debate. The legislation now states nonpublic nonaccredited schools with less than one (1) employee (a.k.a. homeschools) are exempt from this provision. IAHE Action is grateful to Senator Houchin for recognizing the inequity of the language and working to protect homeschool family homes. 

Unfortunately, the language surrounding exigent circumstances was not fully resolved, and the bill passed out of committee unanimously (9-0), but not without Senator Houchin restating her desire to work to continue to strengthen the language of exigent circumstances. 

IAHE Action, IAHE, and partners such as HSLDA, Parental Rights.org, and the Indiana Family Institute offered amendments to further improve this legislation. H.B. 1531 passed through the chambers, excluding home educators.

IMPORTANT NOTE

Families should be aware that any participation in school programs and/or services does leave the child open to the DCS questioning in “exigent” circumstances if the child is engaged in school functions. This could include sports, choir, classes, and therapeutic services such as speech therapy. Parents should always be aware of all laws pertaining to children when they are in a school’s care.  

HB 1005 AND SB 412 – SCHOOL CHOICE, ESA’S, AND THE BUDGET BILL

By the end of the session, the topic of expanded funding for education and education scholarship accounts (ESAs) began grabbing headlines across the state. Multiple bills were presented and pushed in the name of homeschooling and school choice, in spite of IAHE’s expressed concern for the impact on the current freedoms we enjoy. Taking advantage of the large numbers of new-to-homeschooling parents who were unprepared to make the sacrifices home education requires, many legislators seized a long-awaited opportunity and pushed for funding to follow the student, creating a long-term shift in the face of a short-term crisis. 

While the passage of Educational Savings Accounts in the Budget Bill is currently restricted to certain children who are not enrolled in public or accredited private schools and who have special needs and whose parents fall in a specific income bracket, we know that this is merely the camel’s nose under the tent, and the body will follow the nose. 

Indiana has a long history of failure and fraudulent activity with funding new virtual programs, and ESA programs have been used across the country to lure home educators back into the system. One legislator even stated that ESA users would no longer be homeschoolers but rather would be public schoolers in a different form. 

No one truly knows what the ESA program will look like and what regulations will be required. However, just as private schools that accept vouchers were promised no additional regulations, we have seen more regulations piled onto them every year since conception. 

Public funding should come with accountability, and educational dollars are no exception. While the details of this expansion will not be finalized for months, or even years, to come, it’s clear that regulations are tied to any acceptance of public funding. Implementation of all bills is left to regulators and bureaucrats that will have full discretion. Indiana’s treasurer will have the complete authority to create and implement at will any rules deemed necessary to operate the program.  Services and vendors will require approval. Children may be required to take state assessments, be subject to school oversight, and may lose certain civil rights in the process. No one is sure what the ESA program will look like, and IAHE strongly cautions families who look into the ESA funds, even to the extent of consulting an attorney for advice.


TRUE OR FALSE? 

Homeschool families deserve educational funding or program access because they’ve saved the state money by not enrolling their children in public schools.

FALSE!

Whether they have children or not, all taxpayers contribute funding that is then allocated in the budget by legislators. Public services such as parks, libraries, schools, and fire departments exist for the good of the entire community, and not every person will utilize every service. Making the decision to homeschool does not leave surplus funds in the budget, any more than purchasing books at Amazon means you are entitled to a refund from the local public library. 

Did you know? 

The IAHE and IAHE Action are blessed by the dedication and selfless efforts of our staff and volunteers that work around the clock to monitor threats to our freedom. Your IAHE Membership and donations to IAHE Action support their work and the ministries of the IAHE all year long.

DONATE NOW to IAHE Action to support ongoing efforts to protect your homeschooling and parental rights.

Loving the Vulnerable

Earlier this month, we let you know about SB 428 targeting homeschool families. On Thursday, January 23, 2020, our team visited with state senators and we were assured that this bill was effectively dead thanks to the calls and emails from homeschool families. While we KNOW that until the session is complete there is never a guarantee that any bill is OFFICIALLY dead, we are very grateful that it should not move forward. Thank you for your action!

Special thanks to Senator Greg Walker for being on top of this issue.

Below is our more detailed response to the proposed bill that we shared with them during our visit.

IAHE ACTION

Nothing boils the blood, raises emotion, and brings out the mama and papa bear in most adults like senseless child deaths due to abuse and neglect. Reading the 2018 Annual Report of Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities in Indiana is a sobering and heart-wrenching catalog of tragedy. The lives of each child listed (regardless of the cause of death) were precious to the God who created them and a loss to the world who no longer has them. A further reality is there are hundreds more children who live in abusive and neglectful situations who will never be listed as fatalities, but their lives are just as precious. Preventing child abuse and neglect should be a priority for everyone. 

Prior to our modern era of government agencies taking the lead in child protection, helping vulnerable children was a charitable endeavor. Around the 1800’s, sectarian societies began to establish the “settlement” movement to help provide shelter and basic services for children in need.  Even today, many members in the homeschool community are actively involved with Child Protection Services (CPS) by being foster parents. The broader homeschool movement has largely been a mother’s movement to provide a better education and upbringing for their children (adopted or biological) than can be found in current government schools. We love children. And, not just our own children. We love, adopt, protect and are ready to advocate for all children. 

Many families choose homeschooling after trying the public schools. Sadly, they found their children were not thriving for a variety of reasons. Perhaps their dyslexic child was denied needed services; or, their offspring became the target of schoolyard bullying. In LaPorte, Indiana, parents discovered their public schooled autistic daughter had been strapped down in a homemade restraint chair that caused bruises and abrasions. Yet another child in Gibson County, Indiana was placed multiple times in a 3 foot by 5 foot seclusion room for up to twenty-six minutes, during which the girl sometimes soiled herself. This happened 106 times during 117 days of public school. For many homeschool families, bringing their child home to educate was in an effort to provide the best possible upbringing and education in the safest environment for their unique learner that was missing in the public school. Fortunately, Indiana law recognizes the parent’s primary role in the instruction of their children.

Parental rights have a long history in Western legal theory going back as far as English Common Law. William Blackstone, a famous English lawyer and professor, had a profound impact on American law through our Founders. They were all familiar with his famous work known as “Commentaries”. Robert Sedler, a law professor at Wayne State University, states that Blackstone set forth the parent-child relationship as the “most universal relation in nature.” Bound within this relationship were three duties parents had to their children: maintenance, protection, and education. Education, in particular, was of greatest importance among the three duties according to Blackstone. Sedler goes on to point out that Blackstone felt contemporary countries were wrong to not require an education for children. We see this sentiment echoed throughout our Federal and State education laws. In the Supreme Court decision allowing the existence of private schools in the United States, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, states, “The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”  

Further, the Indiana State Constitution states, “Knowledge and learning, generally diffused throughout a community, being essential to the preservation of a free government; it shall be the duty of the General Assembly to encourage by all suitable means, moral, intellectual, scientific, and agricultural improvement.”

This part of the Indiana constitution was further explained in the 1904 case, State v. Peterman which determined the definition of a school in Indiana as “a place where instruction is imparted to the young… We do not think that the number of persons, whether one or many, make a place where instruction is imparted any less or any more a school.” Note, instruction must be taking place. Particularly, instruction equivalent to that given in public schools as later developments showed. If a home cannot be said to be providing an adequate education, it is not a school of any sort. 

In the Peterman case, the father was not educating his child at the time. The truancy officer informed him that it was illegal to not provide an education, so Mr. Peterman found a former school teacher near his home who was willing to educate the child. Not providing a child with an education is against the law, no matter where the child happens to be. There is ample case law governing education and the rights of parents to be fundamentally involved in the “maintenance, protection and education” of their children’s lives. Any attempt to single out parents who are educating their children in the home is discriminatory. We have the same rights as parents who make other choices. We must follow the education laws of the State. The Indiana Code even gives schools a mechanism to ensure education is occurring in the home. Indiana Code 20-33-2-20(c) allows the state superintendent and the local school superintendent to request attendance records for non-public schools. Indiana Code 20-33-2-28(b) declares it is unlawful for a parent to fail, neglect or refuse to send a child to public school “unless the child is being provided with instruction equivalent to that given in public schools.” Unfortunately, we know there are unfit parents who do not honor their duties to their children. The Child Abuse and Fatalities Report is evidence of this fact. 

Consequently, as we consider the underlying assumption of SB 428 targeting homeschool families, it is clear that Senator Leising believes home-based education carries a greater risk for child fatalities. When IAHE reached out to Sen. Leising’s office, we received the following response: “the senator wants more data on where these deaths are occurring”. The facts do not bear out this type of investigation.  In 2018, the Child Abuse and Fatalities Report found that only 6 out of 65 child deaths were school-aged children and none of these cases involved home-based instruction. Of those six deaths, two were murder/suicides. Both cases were of children enrolled in a public school, but were killed by their father who then committed suicide. A third death was a child in the custody of a parent whose family was in the process of having the parent hospitalized for mental illness. Unfortunately for the ten-year-old boy, mental health and protective services moved too slowly to prevent his death. The fourth incident was a 17-year-old who had a history of suicidal thoughts. While tragic, teenage suicide is not unique to any one school setting. The two remaining cases involved drugs. One child found methamphetamine in the possession of her father’s girlfriend and consumed it, which resulted in her death. The other drug-related case involved a parent who was engaged in methamphetamine production. In both cases, the educational setting had nothing to do with their deaths. Instead, the opioid epidemic claimed two innocent victims.

If we look back to the report from 2017, we find a similar pattern.  Only three school-age deaths occurred out of twenty-six. One was an accidental drowning of an autistic child who was visiting family, so they did not have all their normal back-up measures to protect him.  Another was a child who committed suicide by consuming prescription medication belonging to her legal guardian. The third was due to complications from end-stage renal disease. While the data point to many needs in our community, the numbers do not suggest that home-based instruction is in any way related to child fatalities. 

Senator Leising’s bill, SB 428, wants Indiana to identify all children who solely receive home-based instruction. There are a few issues with this philosophically, and even more on a technical level. If investigating the location is the true motivation for this legislation, why is it being targeted at only one demographic? Furthermore, perhaps noting families who have run afoul of truancy laws would also create a full picture. It is well-known that truancy problems are often a warning sign of family instability. Instead, the bill implies that the only families with inherent potential to abuse and neglect children are the ones who home educate. Additionally, 91% of the deaths in 2018 listed in the report are under the compulsory school age, which means this special designation would not apply to the overwhelming majority of the cases. In the 2017 Appendix, 89% of the deaths were of children not yet old enough to be required to attend school. This bill does not address the needs or gain any new information on the demographic most affected by abuse and neglect: families of children under the age of seven. Not only does the bill ignore the needs of the most vulnerable, it encourages sloppy data collection. 

The scientific method sets forth basic elements of quantitative data collection. When taking data, a researcher wants to control for variables so the data collected is reliable. The data collection this bill would yield does not account for a myriad of variables inherent in the term: “home based instruction”. There is no regular definition of “home based instruction” in all of the Indiana Code. The enforcement agency would need to fabricate its own working definition to implement the directive of this legislation. This brings to bear a number of other concerns. As an article in Chalkbeat recently reported, schools are mislabeling dropouts as homeschoolers. Will they be added to the “home based instruction” numbers?

Then, there are families who are not providing any education in the home. They do not impart instruction to the young in the home or anywhere else. According the laws of Indiana, they are not schools; yet, will these truants be categorized under this provision? The fatality report includes accidental deaths as well. Not every case listed in the report was as a result of neglect and  abuse. Based on the brief description in the 2017 report, the autistic child who drowned was in an attentive home who did their best to protect their child. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, a parent’s worst fear became their reality. Because the bill does not adequately control for these and other variations, any data gleaned would not meet basic scientific standards, nor could one make any reliable conclusions about the school-age population. However, it would appear to be sufficient to tie child abuse and neglect suspicions upon homeschoolers through media narrative. As Mark Twain once popularized, there are “lies, [darned] lies and statistics.” The data from this bill could be skewed to claim just about anything so long as it sullies one particular demographic. 

The problems with this bill are numerous. It ignores the fact that many in the homeschool community work closely with CPS to foster children who originally came to them through the system. It fails to recognize many children have been harmed in the school system, so parents have chosen to protect their children by educating them at home. It implies natural parental rights are suspect and worthy of government supervision while creating an inaccurate data collection mechanism that can be easily distorted to take aim at home educating families. Society throughout the ages has recognized the need to protect children. The homeschool community, many of our member families have been formed through the foster care system, is no different.

Children deserve to be loved as well as maintained, protected and educated. However, remedies to this complex problem need to be based in sound data and focused where it can improve the lives of children, not besmirch the homes of loving parents. Homeschooling provides parents with networks, extracurricular activities, and one-on-one time to bond with children to give them the best start. Homeschooling, at its heart, is about loving the vulnerable. 

DONATE NOW to IAHE Action to support ongoing efforts to protect your homeschooling and parental rights.

SB 428: Sen Leising targets homeschool families

This week, Republican Senator Jean Leising introduced SB 428 which specifically targets homeschooling families in Indiana for scrutiny. The bill itself amends the current practice of gathering information on child fatalities involving families of adoptees. With this bill, the Indiana Child Services report would be required to report annually on how many child fatalities “solely received home based instruction”. 

Indiana has no legal standard for “home based instruction” and Indiana code classifies a home school as a non-accredited, nonpublic school. Virtual public school programs and charter schools also occur in the home. Unclear data and reporting will make this bad bill even worse.

Why is Sen. Leising targeting homeschooled families? 

Inclusion of “home based instruction” in reporting of child fatalities is a curious strategy for combating child abuse. No known data indicates homeschooling as a risk factor for child abuse or neglect. If anything, research tends to find homeschool children are safer, better socialized, less likely to engage in risky behavior, and receive better nutrition. 

Studies for decades have identified numerous risk factors for child abuse and neglect, but home education is not a risk factor. In 2016, the Obama Administration formed the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities (CECANF). The final CECANF report did not find homeschooling to be a risk factor, but a history of Child Protective Services (CPS) contact was the “single strongest predictor of later death from injury.” 

In 2017, Pennsylvania also conducted a statewide study to identify risk factors involved in child fatalities.

In response to Pennsylvania’s Annual Child Protective Services Report (2016), Auditor General Eugene DePasquale issued a special report on the state of the child and the strengths and challenges of PA’s child-welfare system. Despite spending nearly 2 billion dollars to protect children, PA saw 46 children die (and 79 near deaths) due to child abuse. Nearly half of these now deceased children’s families were known to CYS. Auditor DePasquale summarizes the 82 page report in this press release in which he states that “[o]verregulation and a shortage of critical resources have resulted in kids being left in situations that led to their deaths. It’s that simple.”

complied by Dan Beasley, HSLDA attorney

Child abuse is never acceptable and diverting government resources away from children who need it most is irresponsible. Effectively reducing child abuse and fatalities starts with concentrating on documented risk factors. Targeting parents because they educate their children at home is an attack on the family and further seeks to erode parental rights. 

On Thursday, January 16, IAHE Action requested a response from Senator Leising and shared our concerns that this bill unfairly targets homeschool families. This morning, we were told that the Senator just wants to know “where these fatalities are occurring”. But, it’s clear that the proposed bill is not supported by the factual data on abuse, but is a targeted attack on the homeschool community.

Please call the senators on the Family and Children Services Committee to stop this bill. 

While letters and emails are encouraged, please be sure to call for the greatest impact. Placing a phone call is far more effective at sending a message to our elected officials. Keep your comments courteous and polite. 

Senate Family and Children Services Committee:

Sen. Ronald Grooms, Chairman

Sen. Greg Walker, Ranking Majority Member

Republican Senators:

Democrat Senators: 

DONATE NOW to IAHE Action to support ongoing efforts to protect your homeschooling and parental rights.

IAHE Action Responds: Hidden dropouts?

The Indiana Association of Home Educators (IAHE) and IAHE Action are grateful for Chalkbeat’s report on the push-out problem in Indiana schools. The most recent data shows a large escalation of what IAHE Action reported in 2016 during the School to Prison Pipeline hearings.

“Indiana Association of Home Educators (IAHE) and IAHE Action first learned of the public school push-out problem in February 2016. We attended meetings and provided testimony to the Indiana Advisory Committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights about this issue until the completion of their report in December 2016. In addition, we discussed our concerns with the General Assembly and testified in hearings in the House and in the Senate as legislators attempted to correct this harmful practice that occurs in some schools.”

Debi Ketron, former Director of Government Affairs for IAHE and IAHE Action

With the massive failure of Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy, IAHE Action again worked with legislators in the 2019 session to stop homeschooled students from being lumped in with dropouts. In response to our concerns, the legislature introduced S.B. 567 to close the loophole schools were using to disguise their dropout numbers.

“IAHE and IAHE Action sought the strengthening of laws surrounding the actions of these schools. We have reached out to the Indiana Department of Education on this matter and look forward to working with them to ensure students receive the education provided in the Indiana State Constitution.”

Alison Slatter, Senior Policy Analyst, IAHE and IAHE Action

The failure of an individual public school to serve the need of an individual child is not a homeschool issue.

Since 2013, IAHE has received multiple phone calls and emails from families being pushed out by their local school. While most families are withdrawing with a clear intent to homeschool, many families are ill-prepared to take on the full responsibility for their child’s education.

Increasingly, these families are being forced to formalize their intent to homeschool by reporting enrollment on the Indiana Department of Education’s website even though schools can NOT legally require them to do so. When a family refuses to report enrollment, school employees have completed the online enrollment form without the parent’s permission. Reporting enrollment is optional and at the discretion of the parents unless otherwise requested by the state superintendent (IC 20-33-2-21). The law states that only the state superintendent can require individual families, not a class of people, to report enrollment; however, school office personnel are coercing and circumventing parents’ expressed views. Clearly, this is a direct usurpation of parental rights. Knowing this, it is not a large leap to believe schools are now disregarding a parent’s intent to allow a student to dropout and changing their status to one of homeschooling. The article highlights many of the concerns we have had regarding school data. It simply does not match what we know to be true.

In August of 2019, we’ve seen a sharp increase in the number of families that have been coerced by their local school to report their homeschool’s information on the DOE’s website. Families are being told that they can’t have a copy of their student’s records until this has been completed which is a clear violation of a parent’s legal right under FERPA. We’ve reached out numerous times to the DOE in an attempt to resolve the issue.

Tara Bentley, Executive Director of IAHE and IAHE Action board member

The Chalkbeat article also included quotes by individuals who called Indiana laws on homeschooling “lax”. Hoosiers have multiple laws currently on the books the state can choose to enforce. Indiana Code 20-33-2-20(c) allows the state superintendent and the local school superintendent to request attendance records for non-public schools. Indiana Code 20-33-2-28(b) declares it is unlawful for a parent to fail, neglect or refuse to send a child to public school “unless the child is being provided with instruction equivalent to that given in public schools.” Additionally, if a parent refuses to sign the high school withdrawal form as provided by the law in subsection (b), the student is automatically considered a dropout (IC 20-33-2-28). As you can see, the laws on the books are already sufficient to ensure children in home environments receive appropriate instruction. What is lacking is enforcement.

A student at home without instruction is already breaking the law. Transferring a student from a brick and mortar school to homeschool does not make attendance laws void. They are still truant if they are not following the law. Indiana Code 20-33-2-5 provides that a non-public student must attend school for the same number of days as their local school district. As previously stated, the superintendent can request attendance records from homeschool families. School superintendents have the authority needed to check up on homeschool families leaving their school if they choose to do so. As the article indicates, they simply do not do it. In a peer-reviewed article by Dr. Brian Ray, he examined the research available, which is very limited, on the impact of state regulation on the SAT scores of homeschool students. He found no statistical significance on test scores between states of lower v. higher regulation.  The only thing lax about Indiana laws is the enforcement, not what a parent is obligated to provide.

It is misplaced for any professor or supposed “advocacy” group to suggest that homeschooling needs to be regulated more, when the obvious point is that public schools are failing tens of thousands of children/teens or their public-school parents are failing them. This implication that homeschooling needs more state control is ludicrous.

Over 35 years of research show that (1) homeschoolers do better academically, socio-emotionally, and into adulthood than do public school students (regardless of family income, parent education level, or skin color/ethnicity, and (2) regulating homeschooling more or less is not associated with the success of homeschoolers (see only peer-reviewed research here and here ). 

Brian D. Ray, Ph.D., National Home Education Research Institute

Since 1983, the IAHE has been helping Indiana families learn more about home education. The IAHE invites those who wish to explore parent-led, home-based and privately-funded education to visit our website to learn more about homeschooling. Come see how homeschooling can provide children with an appropriate, quality education.

2019 Legislative Session Wrap-up

IAHE began this legislative session in January by monitoring 69 bills of concern. By mid-session, we were actively monitoring twenty-one bills with the potential to impact homeschool families, three of which were very concerning. While the majority of bills were education issues that we typically monitor every year, the emergence of mental health bills unexpectedly became the hot topic of the session.


Compulsory School Age

SB 318 (Gregory Taylor, Democrat – District 33)

  • Final Status – Bill died

Once again, a Senate bill was introduced that would lower the compulsory school age from seven years of age to five years. While it died again this session, we are well aware that this is an annual battle that we expect to revisit in 2020.


Mandatory Kindergarten

HB 1408 (Tonya Pfaff, Democrat – District 43)

  • Final Status – Bill died

This bill would have made kindergarten mandatory for every student five years of age on August 1 of that school year. It is now dead for this session, but we expect to watch this every year. However, the budget bill has positioned funding for increased kindergarten enrollment, so IAHE Action will be vigilant in watching for this in upcoming sessions.


Graduation Pathways

SB 507 (Jeff Raatz, Republican – District 27)

  • Final Status – Bill died in the House

HB 1002 (Holli Sullivan, Republican – District 78)

  • Final Status – Bill passed

SB 507 would have created a graduation pathways tracking and reporting system within the public school system. Public school graduation legislation is always monitored so that we can ensure homeschoolers are not discriminated against in college admissions. While SB 507 died, HB 1002 passed and does include a study regarding career coaching and graduation pathways for public education which we will diligently monitor next session to be sure homeschoolers have an equal opportunity in higher education.


Data Mining

SB 266 (Michael Crider, Republican – District 28)

  • Final Status – Bill died in the House

SB 507 (Jeff Raatz, Republican – District 27)

  • Final Status – Bill died in the Senate

Both the bill that would have mandated mental health screenings (SB 266), as well as the bill crafting graduation pathways (SB 507), would have created a tracking and reporting system on students. SB 507 would have required the Department of Education to provide data on students to the Commission for Higher Education and the State Board. SB 266 and its cohort, HB 1004, must have also, by their very nature, included the collection and recording of students’ inmost thoughts gathered through the mental health screenings. Data mining is a computer science term that simply involves collecting and storing data and finding new information within that data. These bills would have mined data from and about students, and IAHE is always against data mining due to the school system’s lack of accountability. SB 266 died and HB 1004 had the mental health language removed.


Educational Savings Options

HB 1254 (Jim Lucas, Republican – District 69)

  • Final Status – Bill died in House

HB 1675 (Ryan Lauer, Republican – District 59)

  • Final Status – Bill died in House

These two bills addressed educational savings options, such as annual grants or deductions for education-related expenses, typically to be administered by the state. IAHE Action met with legislators, and we were successful in having our concerns heard that this would be the proverbial foot in the door for increased government regulation of homeschooling.


Bias Crimes

SB 12 (Mike Bohacek, Republican – District 8)

  • Final Status – Bill died in House

SB 198 (Mike Bohacek, Republican – District 8)

  • Final Status – Bill passed

This session began with 13 bias and/or hate crime bills. SB 12 was the first to take off and it provided that a court may consider bias in imposing a criminal sentence. While not necessarily a homeschool issue, this bill had many faces. We monitored it to be able to inform co-ops and other homeschool groups with employees as to whether this may have affected them as well as religious restrictions that may be affected. SB 12 died in the House. SB 198 was similar to SB 12 and while it did pass this year and is now law, it does not list specific groups and is a sentencing bill so it does not have a direct effect on homeschool groups with employees.


Mental Health Screenings

SB 266 (Michael Crider, Republican – District 28)

  • Final Status – Bill died in House

HB 1004 (Wendy McNamara, Republican – District 76)

  • Final Status – Bill passed

HB 1001 (Todd Huston – Republican – District 37)

  • Final Status – Bill passed

HB 1629(Robert Behning – Republican – District 91)

  • Final Status – Bill Passed

SB 325(Michael Crider – Republican – District 28)

  • Final Status – Bill passed

SB 266 emerged from revisions in the Senate as a monstrosity that would mandate local schools to become, in essence, mental health providers. This would have been a huge infringement on parental rights by instituting mental health screenings for ALL children from birth through the age of 22. SB 266 passed the Senate but homeschooling parents along with other like-minded groups were able to sound the alarm about this bill and consequently, it did not receive a hearing in the House.

HB 1004 then began to move through the Senate, where IAHE Action watched to see if it would pick up language from SB 266 which included mental health screenings from birth to age 22. IAHE Action was pleased to see Sen. Dennis Kruse add language protecting parental rights by requiring written parental consent prior to mental health screenings and surveys, even though this was still a public school issue at that point. The bill passed the Senate with those provisions intact. However, Rep. Wendy McNamara, unhappy with the addition of these parental consent language, stripped the bill of mental health language before it passed.

HB 1001 was the biennial budget bill and it did pass with language included that allowed for the Secured School Safety grant funds to be used for school-based mental health services. However, in their final day of the session, the House heard the cries of conservative groups (including YOU!) and allowed SB 1629 to nullify the allowance in HB 1001 of using those funds for mental health services in schools. In addition to this, SB 325 included some parental protections for those using public schools. These protections are not perfect and do not allow for penalties, but all in all IAHE Action is pleased to see that legislators heard the people’s voices. SB 325 may be a springboard for homeschoolers to use in future sessions if parental protections of homeschoolers are infringed upon by extending mental health screenings outside of the public school system as was attempted this session.

READ MORE: UPDATE: HB 1004
READ MORE: What About SB266?

Virtual Public School Acountability

SB 567 – (Sen. Jeff Raatz – Republican – District 27)

  • Final Status – passed

In the final weeks of the session, a bill to create additional oversight for virtual public schools harkened back to old issues when SB 567 would have removed the “homeschool exemption” for students withdrawn to homeschool from the public schools for funding calculations. This change would have lumped these new homeschool students in with dropouts when the school reported back to the state. While it was unclear if there would be any long-term consequences for the individual student, the implications of grouping these two types of students does not reflect the intentions of the parents to continue the child’s education. We worked with Rep. Behning to address our concerns and the “homeschool exemption” was reinstated.

READ MORE: SB 567: Homeschoolers as dropouts?


Thank you for making a difference!

Despite having a Republican supermajority in the legislature, parents cannot let their guards down because new issues are introduced each session, as we saw this year with the issues of mental health and bias crime bills. Your phone calls and emails were heard.

Also this session, IAHE Action had many good discussions with many legislators such as our friends Rep. Robert Behning, Rep. Timothy Wesco, Sen. Dennis Kruse, Sen. Randall Head, Rep. Mike Speedy, Sen. Greg Walker, and Sen. Jeff Raatz. Many of these legislators reached out to us when they found areas of concern. Our goal is always to keep them aware that homeschool parents are here, actively monitoring educational bills as well as parental rights concerns.

We have also been able to introduce IAHE & IAHE Action to several legislators who only had a basic understanding of homeschooling. We were able to work with them and share how IAHE stands for parental rights, homeschool freedom, and religious freedom. We are grateful to those legislators that attended the IAHE Home Educators’ Convention. Every year, we hear from new legislators how vital the convention is to their understanding of the home education community.

Thank you to all of you who stay updated and contact your legislators as needed. YOU make a difference!

DONATE NOW to IAHE Action to support ongoing efforts to protect your homeschooling and parental rights.

SB 567: Homeschoolers as dropouts?

On April 9, 2018 Chalkbeat Indiana posted an article regarding SB 567, a bill to provide oversight to Indiana’s virtual, public school programs. The article referenced Rep. Bob Behning, the Indianapolis Republican who chairs the House Education Committee as saying:

Students who leave any public school — virtual or traditional — to be homeschooled would count as dropouts under the school’s graduation rate. Behning said he thinks schools abuse this option and those students, who might be more difficult to educate, end up in virtual schools.

Homeschooled students as dropouts?

Does Rep. Behning believe that families providing a home education are dropouts? Absolutely not.

The issue is whether or not schools are misreporting the number of students withdrawn to homeschool in an effort to protect their graduation rates and funding. Labeling chronic truants and dropouts as homeschooled students is a shell game with potential implications for all involved.

IAHE Action and our sister organization IAHE have been fighting this issue for years.

In 2013, a law was put in place in an attempt to address the problem of high school dropouts being categorized by the public school as homeschoolers. When a family asks to withdraw their student from a public high school, the school is required to provide families with counseling and information about Indiana law on home education (non-accredited, private schools).

Section 10 of House Enrolled Act 1005, added I.C. 20-33-2-28.6, a new section, to law. I.C. 20-33-2-28.6 provides the following: (a) This section applies to a high school student who is transferring to a nonaccredited nonpublic school. (b) Before a student withdraws from a public school, the principal of the student’s school shall provide to the student and to the student’s parent information on a form developed by the department and approved by the state board that explains the legal requirements of attending a nonaccredited nonpublic school located in Indiana. The principal and a parent of the student shall both sign the form to acknowledge that the parent understands the content of the form. (c) If the parent of the student refuses to sign the form provided by the principal under subsection (b), the student is considered a dropout and the principal shall report the student to the bureau of motor vehicles for action under section 28.5(g) of this chapter. The student is considered a dropout for purposes of calculating a high school’s graduation rate under IC 20-26-13-10.

In 2017, IAHE Action worked with Rep Behning to stop schools from mislabeling students that were withdrawn from the public school system to homeschool as dropouts.

In an attempt to curtail this practice, HEA 1384 contains language that prohibits a school from classifying a student as a homeschooler unless the school has substantial evidence that the parent or guardian of the student initiated the student leaving the public high school or an accredited nonpublic high school. The Indiana Department of Education may require the school to produce this evidence if it is ever requested. It will be important for the school to have evidence in writing that the parent initiated a transfer to homeschooling.

SB 567: A new year and a new bill

Faced with the staggering failure of Indiana virtual schools, the legislature is once again trying to hold public schools accountable. And, one of the key metrics for evaluating a public school and granting funding is a school’s graduation rate.

Read: How lax oversight and rapid growth fueled dismal results for Indiana’s virtual charter schools

One of the things that the original language in SB 567 attempted to do was to increase school accountability by removing the distinction between dropouts and students withdrawn to homeschool.

Indiana Coalition for Public Education shared the following:

SB 567 is a bill regarding increased oversight and regulation for virtual schools (generally a good thing). Among other provisions, Amendment #14 removes the “homeschool exemption” from the list of allowable reasons for a student to be removed from a graduation cohort. This means that, if passed/enacted, any student who withdraws from your high school for reason of “homeschooling” will count as a drop out in your high school’s graduation rate. This amendment will negatively affect the accountability grade of many public high schools.

As this bill moved from the Senate through the House, IAHE Action spoke with Rep. Behning to share our concerns about the implications of grouping new homeschool students in with dropouts. Behning authored and passed a House amendment that reinstated the homeschool exemption on April 9th.

Problems Persist

Are schools mislabeling their withdrawn students in an effort to retain their school’s letter grade and funding? Are schools coaching families to complete the homeschool withdraw form… even if the family has no intention to continue their child’s education? Are families being pushed into homeschooling without any understanding of home education?

Yes.

How many families?

That answer is unclear.

In 2018, twelve public schools reported that more than 10% of their high school seniors left to homeschool. Over seventy schools reported withdrawal rates of seniors higher than 5%. The IAHE has contact with a large number of families that make the decision to homeschool in order to complete their student’s high school education, but these numbers do not reflect what we see across the state.

Today, Chalkbeat contacted the IAHE to ask if our organization receives calls from families that were pushed into homeschooling by their public school.

Absolutely.

Our team continues to field calls from parents sharing their stories about school officials “signing their child up for homeschooling” on the Indiana Department of Education’s website — even when the parent has no clear understanding of home education.

As with any parenting challenge, no one begins homeschooling knowing everything they need. It takes time, research, sacrifice, and hard work to be successful. Most importantly, it takes commitment. We believe that parents are capable of providing a quality home education if they are dedicated to the challenge. But, parents should NEVER be forced into an educational choice by someone else.

The current process of evaluating public schools is broken. The rampant mismanagement of the virtual public school programs has only put a spotlight on an issue that has been present for many years. The debate over SB 567 and the schools’ “homeschool exemption” has only made it clear that abuse of the system is still happening.

In spite of the flaws and abuses in the current process, it is balanced by the need to maintain a distinction between high school dropouts and families deciding to homeschool. IAHE Action and IAHE are in support of SB 567 as it retains the current homeschool exemption for schools without increasing oversight for families.


DONATE NOW to IAHE Action to support ongoing efforts to protect your homeschooling and parental rights.

UPDATE: HB 1004

As we’ve shared here previously, HB 1004 has provisions dealing with mental health issues of high schoolers with virtually no parental protections. And, virtually no penalties if anyone was sloppy with protecting confidential information.

Sen. Kruse led a successful effort to get HB 1004 amended to include strong parental protections and the bill passed the Senate. However, IAHE Action has learned that the original bill author, Republican Rep. Wendy McNamara is trying to gut these protections. She refused to concur with the Senate changes and is now working behind to remove these hard-fought protections.

We’ve reached out to key legislators to make them aware of our dissatisfaction. But we need your help. 

If you’re like me and you want parental rights protections, please call your House Member today and let them know that the House should “concur” to HB 1004 and not gut the parental protections Sen. Kruse placed into HB 1004. 

American Family Association of Indiana’s Director, recently shared:

It is important to call, particularly your state Rep, and ask them to keep the parental rights language that the Senate put in 1004. The House GOP caucus will vote behind closed doors on whether to accept McNamara’s gutting of the bill… and she will then go back and act accordingly at the conference committee.

Micah Clark

The number is: 800-382-9841.

Please call right away, time for the 2019 session is coming to a close so the final votes could happen at any time. 

Support Sen. Kruse’s Amendment to HB 1004

UPDATE: Amendment #25 was pulled and rewritten as amendment #27. It was approved by the committee. Thank you for your action to protect parental rights!

URGENT: Please call your State Senator to support Sen. Kruse’s Amendment #25 to HB 1004. 

As you already know, thanks to your calls and emails, Senate Bill 266, after a contentious vote in the Senate, has stalled in the House Education Committee. That bill is now radio-active, so to speak. No one wants to touch it.

However, IAHE Action has learned that proponents of SB 266 are looking to use House Bill 1004 as a vehicle to advance their agenda. Currently, HB 1004 contains language that would have mandatory mental health screenings for 9-12th graders. While this bill is not a direct attack on homeschoolers yet, we view this as an attack on parental rights.

Thankfully, our long-time ally in the Senate, Sen. Dennis Kruse (R – Auburn) has filed an amendment that would strengthen parental rights protections by prohibiting any mental health screening, assessment, evaluation or treatment to occur without prior written consent from the parents.

Please call your Senator today and ask them to vote for Amendment #25 in the Senate Education Committee. The hearing is scheduled for Wednesday at 1:30pm, so they need to hear from you right away. IAHE Action has also learned there is stiff resistance building to this amendment from the entrenched bureaucracies. So there is no time to waste and every call counts.

The Senate # is: 800-382-9467. Please call them ASAP. And if you have a minute, ask your friends and family to call as well. 

Please do all you can. 

DONATE NOW to IAHE Action to support ongoing efforts to protect your homeschooling and parental rights.