Proposed Bill Would Treat Homeschooling as Abuse

HSLDA

West Virginia Senate Education Chair Kenneth Mann (R-Monroe, 10), has teamed up with Democratic senators Michael Romano and Ron Stollings to propose an alarming law that would effectively prohibit homeschooling and order CPS investigations if parents wanted to homeschool children who had accrued 10 absences without acceptable excuse.

Sen. Romano was a principal opponent of the West Virginia homeschool modernization act that was signed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin last year. Senator Jeffrey Mullins is listed as co-sponsor but has reportedly stated he would either remove his name from the bill or oppose it.

HSLDA strongly opposes this bill and is urging our members and friends to take action to prevent this bill from moving forward in the WV legislature. The bill is unnecessary because the law already provides procedures for school authorities to intervene if there are legitimate concerns regarding the home education of a child. The bill is alarming because of the statist mindset it represents that public education is presumed to be where children belong and that parents cannot be trusted with deciding when to homeschool. The bill also imposes unconstitutional burdens on the right of parents to decide how a child is educated and would create new burdens on local and state authorities.

While parents whose children are enrolled in public schools should undertake to comply with the attendance requirements, it is alarming that the state would seek to prohibit parents from exercising their fundamental rights to homeschool simply because of attendance problems at a public school.  If passed, this bill would unreasonably hold some children and their families hostage in violation of both the parents’ and the children’s rights to access home education.

Many parents whose children are in school choose to homeschool when anxiety, illness, or special physical or mental learning needs are present. In these cases, unexcused absences are often involved due to chronic illness. Unexcused absences is an insufficient reason to interfere with a parent’s rights to homeschool.  In some circumstances, it is not always possible for parents to bring a chronically ill child to get an excuse from a medical professional.  Such frequent visits can also present difficult financial challenges for lower income families.

HSLDA has been involved in scores of cases where schools, often through simple mistakes, bring complaints against parents seeking to homeschool a sick or challenged child. The reality is that school personnel can and often do make errors, in many cases by accident, in counting what is or is not an unexcused absence.  Such accidents or miscommunications do not present sufficient reason to interfere with a parent’s right to choose a legal and private alternative to public education.

Under current West Virginia law, superintendents already have the authority to deal with concerning situations on a case-by-case basis. A school superintendent who has probable cause may seek an order from a circuit court to deny home education under certain circumstances. SB 528 would create a new quasi-judicial procedure run by the county board of education. In addition to granting vague authority to the state board of education to create additional procedures for county boards, the bill would turn county boards of education into circuit courts, a new and unfamiliar burdens on elected officials who already struggle with their current workloads.

SB 528 is an excessive and unnecessary intrusion into families – it is also an unconstitutional infringement on the rights of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children which have been recognized in numerous U.S. Supreme Court decisions. The mere fact that a child has accrued 10 days of allegedly unexcused absences from the public school is simply not a sufficient reason to infer parental abuse or neglect or shift the burden of proof to parents while granting approval authority over homeschooling to county boards of education.

What can you do?

HSLDA is asking our West Virginia members to contact their state senators, as well as Senate Education Committee chairman Kenneth Mann, to tell them not to take up this legislation. The education committee chairman can be reached at: kenny.mann@wvsenate.gov.

In your own words, give them the following message:

SB 528 is a confusing, and constitutionally defective, bill. The bill unconstitutionally restricts parents’ right to direct their child’s education, by presuming that they are guilty of child abuse or neglect and ordering intrusive CPS investigations without any evidence to suggest that abuse or neglect is actually and reasonably suspected. The bill would also impose new and confusing burdens on county boards of education, and stretch already limited CPS resources by requiring spurious investigations on the sole grounds that a child accrued too many allegedly unexcused absences. Current law already gives superintendents the ability to investigate and deny home education if there is a substantiated problem, while maintaining an appropriate degree of due process protection for families. SB 528 is unnecessary, confusing, and intrusive. Please do not run this bill.

In summary, HSLDA opposes this legislation for the following reasons:

  • It creates new quasi-judicial burdens on school boards who are not equipped to carry them out. West Virginia already has laws empowering law enforcement authorities and social services to investigate allegations of abuse or neglect. The existing laws also enable superintendents who have concerns about particular homeschooling situations to investigate and address those concerns.
  • It could be used to prevent parents from making constitutionally protected decisions about their children’s education based on the very low legal standard of “reasonable cause.” This is too low of a standard to protect a fundamental constitutional right.
  • It treats parents who want to homeschool as suspected child abusers who must be investigated.
  • It violates constitutional protections against double jeopardy by subjecting families to multiple investigations just for seeking to homeschool their child.
  • It creates confusion by requiring authorities to undertake an abuse and neglect investigation simply because a child has been absent from school for 10 days. Mere absence is not reasonable cause to believe a child is neglected. Proponents will say this measure applies only to unexcused absences—but the school is in total control over whether an absence is treated as excused or not. Conflicts between schools and parents over what are and are not excused absences is a perennial problem, and this bill would raise the stakes even higher.
  • It impermissibly intertwines the courts and the county boards by placing the right to homeschool under the control of the county board of education. This conflicts with the current code which places the jurisdiction under the circuit court, where it should be. What county board of education in West Virginia is going to uphold home education as “adequate”?  County boards are not judicial bodies; they are policy-making bodies of elected officials, and exist to run the public schools.  They are not equipped to “hold a hearing.” Hearings are for judges and courts, not for boards of education.

This bill is confusing, burdensome, and unnecessary and should be strenuously opposed.

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