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Homeschooling Group Sues NYC over ‘Systematic Mistreatment’

November 23, 2017

A homeschooling advocacy group is suing the government of New York City (NYC) for “systematic mistreatment of homeschoolers” because the city’s slow processing of paperwork has resulted in homeschooling families being falsely accused of crimes.

Accused of Neglect

New York City mother Tanya Acevedo withdrew her child from a government school to homeschool him in 2016. After she completed the multistep paperwork process to comply with state laws, which included seven separate documents covering individualized plans for multiple subjects and quarterly progress reports, a Child Protective Services (CPS) investigator visited her apartment because of a report of “educational neglect.”

Acevedo had the documentation to prove she had completed and submitted the required paperwork. The home instruction office was so behind in its work, however, it hadn’t processed her materials. Acevedo contacted Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) for advice.

“After many phone calls, another visit from the CPS investigator, considerable inconvenience, and much unnecessary anxiety for Tanya and her son, Tj Schmidt [HSLDA’s contact attorney for New York] persuaded the case worker to close the investigation,” the HSLDA website reported in December 2016.

‘Injustice Against Homeschooling Families’

HSLDA talked to other families in the city and reported, “Family after family have found themselves in legal limbo because the central office simply cannot or will not follow the timelines in the regulation.

“The injustice against homeschooling families in New York City can no longer be tolerated,” HSLDA stated. “On December 5, HSLDA filed a civil rights lawsuit against New York City public schools over their systematic mistreatment of homeschooling families. We are asking for money damages and for a court to order the New York City bureaucracy to simply follow New York’s homeschooling regulation.”

‘Homeschoolers Are Frustrated’

Laurie Spigel, creator of homeschoolnyc.com and a former home educator who has a paralegal background, summarizes the law and simplifies the paperwork on her website. Spigel says New York makes homeschooling difficult.

“Most homeschoolers are frustrated with New York state homeschooling regulations,” Spigel said. “The New York state homeschooling regulations tend to cause panic in new homeschoolers. It looks so overwhelming that it’s intimidating.

“I know of parents who have moved out of New York City, just across the river to New Jersey, simply to avoid the burdensome paperwork and the feeling of intimidation from the DOE [Department of Education],” Spigel said. “In New Jersey, you have to file once a year, which is true in many states. In New York you have to file six times a year.”

‘An Ongoing Issue’

Schmidt says New York City authorities often seem not to understand the laws they are supposed to enforce.

“When these families are investigated by the Administration for Children’s Services [ACS], there is a very real possibility that ACS will not understand what is required and file a petition in family court,” Schmidt said. “We believe this should not happen when the primary issue is a paperwork issue that is entirely within the power of the Central Office of Homeschooling to resolve if only they would simply follow the timeline laid out under New York law.

“This has been an ongoing issue with the Central Office of Homeschooling with similar families [to the Acevedos],” Schmidt said. “A lawsuit was necessary after we complained in writing for several years, went up the chain within the New York City DOE, and even attempted to meet with school officials at all levels, with no success.”

Lawsuit Continues

Schmidt says he believes HSLDA is close to concluding the lawsuit.

“We believe we are close,” Schmidt said. “We are waiting for the New York City DOE to provide us with an agreement. We were mainly asking for the New York City DOE to follow the New York homeschool regulations, to basically process the paperwork in a timely manner so that parents who pull their children out to homeschool them and comply with state law are not in jeopardy of receiving an educational neglect investigation because of this delay.”

‘Commonsense Modernization’

“Even in our Internet Age, rather than making homeschooling paperwork available online or mailing it to the home, NYC requires parents to trudge down to the Central Office of Home Schooling on Seventh Avenue to pick it up,” HSLDA’s website states. In addition to recommending reducing the number of progress reports New York requires each year, HSLDA wants the city and state to make things simpler for homeschooling families, Schmidt says.  

“We are working with the NYC DOE’s attorney to try and ensure that school officials follow New York law,” Schmidt said. “We are also continuing to pursue commonsense modernization of the homeschool regulation to make the appropriate homeschool documentation that a student is making adequate academic progress in a prompt and accurate manner without taking away from the actual education of the child or the other responsibilities that local school officials have.”

Schmidt says many other states make it easy for families to homeschool.

“While I can’t speak for all states, most are doing a far better job than New York,” Schmidt said. “The fundamental thing is people are being educated. Many states have figured out a way to confirm without overburdening families and the school system.”

Ashley Bateman (bateman.ae@googlemail.com) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.

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Author
Ashley Bateman writes from Alexandria, Virginia.
bateman.ae@googlemail.com