Backed-Up System, Heavy Regulations Cause Turmoil for Homeschooling Parents in New York
A Buffalo mother was arrested and her children taken away last month after she started homeschooling.
A single mother in New York was arrested and her children taken away in January after she decided to homeschool — and some are claiming it’s because the school system lost her paperwork. That doesn’t seem to be unusual in New York state, where bureaucratic incompetence often brings school systems and homeschooling parents into needless conflict.
CPS Inquires, Then Arrests
Kiarre Harris removed her children from the Buffalo Public School District in December. “I felt that the district was failing my children,” she told Buffalo’s WKBW.
“I felt that the district was failing my children.”
In compliance with New York state’s regulations, she submitted a letter of intent to homeschool her children along with the other necessary paperwork. Harris showed copies of the documents, dated December 7, to WKBW.
“I spoke directly to the homeschool coordinator and she told me from this point on my children were officially un-enrolled from school,” Harris said.
But a week later she received a call from Child Protective Services (CPS) inquiring about her children’s absence from school. Within a month, CPS contacted Harris again, claiming they had a court order to remove her children. CPS had her arrested her for obstruction when she told them no, WKBW reported.
A Family Court judge ruled on Thursday — nearly four weeks after Harris was separated from her children — that she could visit them under supervision for two hours every week. Vanessa Guite, Harris’s attorney, said county workers are citing “baseless allegations” to keep her from regaining custody.
“A family was broken up because of someone’s negligence,” Ulysees O. Wingo, Sr., a Buffalo City Council member, said at a council meeting earlier this week. He alleged it was a paperwork issue that caused authorities to believe Harris’s children were truants.
The Buffalo Public School District told WKBW that it wasn’t a paperwork issue, and that CPS was notified before Harris’s letter of intent was submitted.
A Broken System
As of Thursday, Wingo continued to address the issue as a systematic failure between the school and the district, WKBW reported.
“If you in good faith put in your letter of intent, and at that point begin to homeschool your children and not send them to school, and at that point if the school is not communicating with the District, and the District is not communicating with the school, you are educationally neglecting your children,” Wingo said in a Facebook Live video.
At least two dozen homeschooling families in New York City were accused of educational neglect in 2016, despite filing the required notices. New York is among five states HSLDA classifies as “high regulation” when it comes to homeschooling.
If paperwork is indeed the issue behind Harris’s predicament, it wouldn’t be the first time homeschooling parents in New York state have been targeted by CPS due to internal failures. In December 2016, Parent Herald reported, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) sued New York City for “systematic mistreatment.”
The lawsuit came after Tanya Acevedo received a visit from CPS one evening shortly after she began homeschooling her son. Even though she had filed the necessary paperwork, her son’s former school reported her for “too many absences,” Acevedo told HSLDA. CPS proceeded to conduct a 60-day investigation of the Acevedo family.
The New York Post reported last year that at least two dozen homeschooling families in New York City were accused of educational neglect in 2016, despite filing the required notices. New York is among five states HSLDA classifies as “high regulation” when it comes to homeschooling. The state requires that parents submit a notice of intent to homeschool and an Individualized Home Instruction Plan (IHIP) that includes syllabi and a list of curriculum materials. Families must also meet day, hour and subject requirements, file quarterly reports and complete annual assessments of their children.
The Paperwork Gets Lost Or Backlogged
In all, seven documents per homeschooled child must be submitted to the state each year, according to HSLDA’s New York attorney Tj Schmidt.
But the paperwork often gets lost or backlogged, meaning that weeks go by after parents submit the initial notice before officials unenroll their children from public school. This causes public school teachers to report families for educational neglect.
In New York City the problem is particularly bad, Schmidt said. All the paperwork of the between 3,500 and 4,000 homeschooled children in the city is funneled into one central office of homeschooling. Schmidt believes the office is understaffed.
Problems for homeschooling families around the state also arise when school officials mistakenly assume a parent’s IHIP must be approved before children can actually be removed from public school, Schmidt said. In reality, parents have 14 days after removing their children from public school before they are even required to submit the letter of intent.
“It appears that could be part of the concern or part of the issue of the Harris case,” Schmidt said, though he noted that he does not have direct knowledge of the situation. HSLDA isn’t currently involved with Harris’s case, but Schmidt has offered his assistance to Guite.
“It’s Time to Reevaluate New York State Regulations”
Eleven states require no notice from parents who intend to homeschool, while the majority of states require a notice of intent, and in many cases, test scores and student evaluations — though nothing like the seven documents a year required by New York.
“It just becomes unworkable for many of these state officials to actually follow the regulations,” Schmidt said, adding that New York’s homeschooling regulations date back to the late 1980s.
New York City’s homeschooling regulations date back to the late 1980s and required filing seven documents with an understaffed office. “It just becomes unworkable for many of these state officials to actually follow the regulations.”
“At that time homeschooling was still somewhat new in the modern era,” he added, acknowledging the legitimate concern of many to ensure that homeschooled children received adequate education. Three decades later, it’s a different story.
“Clearly we’ve been able to identify over the past 30 years that parents can be successful, and [homeschooled students] are on average as or more successful than children educated in the public school system,” Schmidt said.
“It’s time to reevaluate New York state regulations.”