A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Truant—or homeschooled?

How does one determine if a child is really being homeschooled? Well, I ran across this one, and found it interesting. From Marion, Illinois:
This weekend will bring jail time for a Marion woman convicted of allowing her 15-year-old son to remain truant for almost an entire school year.

Williamson County Judge Ronald Eckiss sentenced Kim Harris to 48 hours in the Williamson County Jail. Harris was also ordered to pay court costs incurred.

Eckiss found Harris guilty of knowingly and willfully permitting her son’s truancy throughout the 2004-05 school year, despite Harris’ claims that she was home-schooling her son.

Williamson County State’s Attorney Charles Garnati filed charges against Harris in 2005. An investiga-tion by the Regional Office of Education determined that Harris’ son, then 15 years old, was not being home-schooled by his mother, Garnati said.

While public defender Rob Bateson argued that Harris’ employment would be in jeopardy if she received jail time, Eckiss ordered Harris to appear at the jail at 6 p.m. Saturday, where she is to remain until 6 p.m. Monday.

“Ms. Harris, I don’t think you’re taking this serious,” Eckiss said.

Harris was convicted of a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in the county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

An investigator from the Regional Office of Education determined Harris’ son had been truant from home-schooling from Oct. 8, 2004, to March 28, 2005, Garnati said.

Eckiss told Harris, who said her son was currently attending an alternative school, that one conviction did not mean she was exempt from future prosecution.

“They will prosecute you again — and I’ll just keep adding them up,” Eckiss said. “We’re going to get your attention. Your son needs an education.”

Ignoring the judge’s poor grammar (it’s “seriously”, not “serious”), I wondered if there were more to this story, and I found this from April 29, 2005:
Williamson County State's Attorney Charles Garnati is taking a tougher stance with parents who fail to follow established curriculum guidelines when home schooling their children.

On Thursday, he announced at a press conference that he has charged Marion resident Kim Harris with permitting truancy, a Class C misdemeanor punishable up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Harris is said to have willingly and knowingly allowed her 15-year-old son to be truant.

Garnati stressed that he supports home-schooling in general, just not for parents who abuse the privilege.

Some parents have allowed their children to be truant from public schools, and when threatened with legal action, have pulled their children from that school to avoid prosecution, Garnati said.

"It's what I call an end around," Garnati said. "These are parents who have no intention of home-schooling their child. Unfortunately, there is no law on the books that criminalizes improper home schooling. What concerns me are those children who are chronically truant from school."

In Illinois, chronic truancy is 10 percent absenteeism from the classroom. In Williamson County, Garnati said, he files truancy charges against four to five parents each year. Harris is the first, however, who claimed to be home-schooling her child at the time charges were filed.

"Our priority is to get children back in school and not have to take the parents or kids to court," Garnati said.

Admitting that the Harris case is pretty much a "test" case, Garnati said he made his decision to prosecute after he and Marion school district officials had exhausted all other efforts to solve the problem.

Mickey Sullivan, truant officer with the regional superintendent of schools office in Herrin, said the number of truancy cases has dwindled in the county under Garnati's watch. But she believes the number of children who are home-schooled who are not receiving proper instruction has increased.

"People don't have to register with our office if they decide to home-school their kids," Sullivan said. "The only way we know the student is being home-schooled is if the parent pulls the student from the school for whatever reason or if we get a report that the student has been seen out on the streets. Otherwise, it's hard to track."

Sullivan said one of the keys to solving truancy and delinquent home-schooling parents is for state's attorneys and judges to take a tough stand with the families involved.

"You don't generally go to jail for truancy, but you can for contempt of court if the judge orders you to go to school and you don't go," Sullivan said. "Fortunately, Williamson County is one of the few counties that will support truancy laws."

In the Harris case, Sullivan said she made three trips to the residence to see if there was an established curriculum. In each case, however, she found that there wasn't one.

"She didn't produce any evidence of home-schooling," Sullivan said. "It's important that we send the message to those parents who are not home-schooling their kids properly that they can be prosecuted."

Marion High School Principal Gerald Murphy said the dispute is not whether or not children are enrolled in public schools or home-schooled, but rather if the parents who choose to home school are trying to get around the system and not provide a quality education for their child.

I'm not too sure the word "privilege" should have been applied to the concept of homeschooling in the second piece. Parents have a right to determine the best means of obtaining an education for their children, as long as an education is in fact obtained. Apparently, in Illinois, there is a dispute as to whether then minimum amount of time required by state law—176 days of instruction and 5 hours per day—applies to homeschoolers. In addition, from my brief search, I found that Illinois school districts may send truant officers to a home if they do not get a withdrawal letter and request for records by at most 14 days after a student is withdrawn from attendance.

To be honest, in regards to truancy, in the area in which I live, as long as a parent calls in an excused absence to the school, a child can pretty much be gone for weeks with no consequences, although most local area schools may withhold credit for a student who has more than thirty days of absences in a semester. It doesn’t happen often, to be honest (the consequences, not the truancy).

I have had mixed experiences with homeschooled youngsters. I have known a homeschooling family in my neighborhood who were always having their kids do some sort of cool scientific experiment or sending the kids over to discuss some great novel that they were reading—we kind of had tutorials in the front yard during the summer. For years, a homeschooling family in a nearby area has sent their children to the national spelling and geography bees. On the other hand, there were the grandparents who claimed to be “homeschooling” their grandson who allowed him to skateboard all over the neighborhood, smoking cigarettes and hanging out at the shopping center six to seven hours a day. He finally demonstrated a haphazard knowledge of the works of Keith Waring upon some public buildings, which garnered the attention of the authorities at long last. (Basically, it came out that the kid was terrorizing the grandparents and they were afraid of him.) I've also known a mother who claimed she couldn't get her five-year old out of bed, and when the school wouldn't "help" her get the moppet up every morning, she began "homeschooling" the child.

I know homeschool parents who work really hard to provide their children with a rich educational experience—and I know families who let their kids run wild and call it homeschooling. I do think there should be some evidence of a curriculum, assessment, and instruction, however. The future of an educated populace depends upon a quality education for all.


At 7/13/06, 1:50 PM, Blogger elementaryhistoryteacher said...

I have also seen both sides of this issue. Some of our worst behaving children have been taken out of school by their parents so they could be homeschooled only to have the child become a neighborhood menace because the parents are at work and sonny boy is supposed to be at home completing his schooling on his own. Why would a parent do this? Quite simply they are tired of dealing with the school.

I homeschooled my son several years ago, and at the time all we had to do was complete an attendance chart each month and mail it in. I didn't have to show any evidence of curriculum or completed assignments. The only other requirement was homeschooled students had to be tested by the state every three years. Since we homeschooled in sixth grade he wasn't scheduled for testing until 8th grade. That's a long time to wait to measure growth. I've heard the restrictions here have not changed....but I'm not sure. Now that we test every year homeschooled kids might have to test as well.

There are so many families who are doing a great job with homeschool as evidenced by the homeschool blogs, and I think homeschool is a reasonable type of school choice. There's a few though, like the one you described, who abuses the system for yet another opportunity to neglect their own child.

At 7/13/06, 2:01 PM, Anonymous MellowOut said...

I know a friend of the family who was an example of how not to homeschool. Her son was taken out of school because he was, in her terms, "clinically shy", although he was never diagnosed by a professional in regards to his shyness and anxiety. He also was able to overcome his shyness enough to work out a deal where he attended two classes a day at the school. (It just so happens that his friends were in those classes and not in others.) When he was home, she had him work on his own, which meant he got up late and then sat around watching TV until it was time to attend the two classes later in the day.

RE: Serious and Seriously

Seriously, if you didn't mention it...

At 7/13/06, 2:23 PM, Blogger COD said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 7/13/06, 2:24 PM, Blogger COD said...

There will never be quality education for all. Some people don't want and will actively reject it.

Let them.

The real question is why should the state care? Parents don't owe society well educated offspring. A 15 year old who doesn't want to be in school is going to divert time and resources from the kids that do want to be there. The vast majority of parents want what is best for their kids. Compulsory attendance laws rarely change the outcomes in the other cases. It seems to me it would be a win-win for the state to stop worrying about what the kids who aren't in school are doing all day. The kids could get on with whatever it is they want to do in life, and the schools could perform better by focusing on the kids that really want to be there, or at least aren't actively opposing the idea.

At 7/13/06, 3:00 PM, Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

This is a great post, Ms. Cornelius! I may be risking your wrath, but I actually agree with COD here. What are those kids going to be like when you force them back into the classroom? Will they really benefit? What will be the effects on the other students?

The homeschoolers that I'd like to have back in school, are the kids who are actually being homeschooled. Very often, they're motivated kids with good values, and they can have a positive effect on their classmates.

One thing that could definitely improve public education would be for our schools to regain the trust of parents who care about their kids education, but have decided to go the homeschooling route. Forcing a bunch of kids, who don't want to be there, back into our classrooms isn't going to do that.

By the way, I teach in an area where we don't have a large amount of kids like this, and we have a low drop-out rate. I recognize that what I think is best for our community might not be best for someone else's.

At 7/13/06, 3:02 PM, Blogger GuusjeM said...

We've noticed the same - some homeschool children drop back in to public education and are fine..and there are those who were homeschooled for 3 years and at age 9 don't know how to multiply ..not to mention the one who is seen skate boarding in the neighborhood during most of the day.

At 7/13/06, 3:09 PM, Blogger The Rain said...

I've seen both sides of it, too. One of my girls this year was homeschooled for kindergarten, and she was as well-behaved and bright as a parent could ever hope.

We've also had the kids come back after 3 months of homeschooling because the parents found out just how hard it is, and the kids who come into the school after years of homeschooling and they're immediately special ed candidates, they're so far behind.

If parents want to do it and want to do it well, bully for them. It's something we might consider with my own, when the time comes. But if the parent in the article was truly as lax as it sounds, I'm all for the consequence.

At 7/13/06, 3:11 PM, Blogger Spunky said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 7/13/06, 3:12 PM, Blogger Spunky said...

The fact that some may or may not educate their children properly is a nonissue. The question is, "Does the state have the authority to regulate how a child who is not enrolled in their schools is educated?" I say no. But others believe the state has the compelling interest and their wishes trump those of the parent or guardian. That line of thinking is fine in a different form of government. But in America we give deference to the private citizen.

Here's a post I wrote this week that offers a litte more insight.


The post deals with testing of homeschoolers but it applies to regualation as a whole as well.

At 7/13/06, 3:23 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Dennis, I never am wrathful about reasoned debate, and I certainly would be disappointed if everyone agreed with everything I said (how else could I be an iconoclast? snicker)--I reserve my wrath for rude namecalling in the name of posting! :-)

I welcome the points of cod as well as you, and you've got great points I want to consider. God knows there have been times I have said that too often teaching some kids involves coersion of the unwilling. So I appreciate you both encouraging me to look at it from another point of view. It is certainly true that you cannot force anyone to learn or to value education as a positive good.

I don't think I am advocating "forcing" homeschoolers back into the school system-- far from it! However, I don't think kids should be roaming the streets committing vandalism and marinating in a sour vinaigrette of ignorance and petty vice.

I am also not too sure that a kid is in any position to decide that he or she doesn't need any more schooling, especially given that adolescence seems to last until one's mid-twenties these days. And if it's the parents deciding to deprive their children of an education, in't that neglect?

Even when I have bid adieu to students who have decided to drop out, deep in my heart, I have hoped that someday they would choose to improve their education.

I guess it's the mom in me contemplating their fate as a permament member of the underclass. I mean, really, how are you ever going to hold down a job if you can't commit to completing high school? (Wasn't there a post on the latest Carnival about perseverance, rather than the actual diploma itself, being one of the reasons why drop-outs earn so much less than HS grads?)

At 7/13/06, 6:30 PM, Blogger Mommy2Lots said...

I am a mother of 4 and decided to homeschool when the public school system failed to meet my childrens' educational needs. They are both way ahead and even when put in classes with kids at higher grade levels, it was still too easy. I come from a family of, for lack of a better word, "brainiacs". Everyone in my family is very smart and most have always been ahead in school. I decided for my own childrens' good, in order to get the type of education they needed, we had no choice but to homeschool. After all, who cares more and is more dedicated to a child than his/her parents? I am a firm believer in fair education for everyone. Sometimes that means traditional school. Sometimes it means homeschool.
I also believe that whatever the parents decide is right for their children should be fully committed to by the one in charge of teaching. I believe that by choosing to homeschool, you are choosing to be a teacher. It is hard work, but if your children need it, you should be ready and willing.
I agree with COD's comments because if you let your kid get that out of control, then instead of burdening someone else with their problems, you need to step up to the plate and solve it yourself. Then, if it's right for the child at the time and all rebellious issues are solved, the child can go back to traditional schooling.
Different children require different methods of schooling.
The Homeschooling Mommy

At 7/13/06, 9:35 PM, Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Ms. Cornelius, I didn't mean to say that YOU want to force kids to be in school, but I think that's what we are doing.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I get the impression that teachers like you and Anonymous Teacher believe a major part of your mission is to reach "troubled" students. Believe me, I admire that.

But I really see my mission more as doing everything I can to help kids who have a desire to get an education, especially those who are disadvantaged in any way. I'm all for reaching out to "troubled" students (disruptive or apathetic), but my experience has been that we fail there more often than we succeed. Nevertheless, we (public schools) keep trying and trying and trying, even when it becomes obvious that nothing is working. And in the process, we allow the education of our other kids to suffer.

In your second to last paragraph, you make a great point, and I agree completely. You say that when kids do drop out, you hope that they'll change their mind. I really believe we should focus more of our efforts there. I have to believe that there are a lot of dropouts who come to the conclusion that they've made a mistake. I think it makes a lot more sense to have programs to encourage those young people to come back than to force kids to stay who don't want to be there. When someone has decided they want to learn, no matter what their age and no matter what their history, then I think we've got our best chance to help them.

At 7/13/06, 11:05 PM, Anonymous Mrs. Bog said...

Once Upon a Time I was the co-chair of the district's 35 million dollar bond campaign. Very Important Parent, trotted out to convince voters to part with hard earned tax dollars.
Youngest was in kindergarten and nine weeks in the teacher announces, 'there are three kids I want on drugs, kid A, kid B and Bog Jr.'
Oops. Wrong thing to say!
While I was in the district office filling out the paperwork to remove Bog Jr. from school I spotted the District Superintendent
wandering the office. Oh, no! I tried to hide. I tried turning my back. I could feel her come up behind me and I knew she was reading over my shoulder... Then I felt a breeze go by as she fled the office! We weren't going to have that conversation. We never did.
Bog Jr. eventually went back to school, diagnoised as dyslexic and is on the honor roll, taking honors and AP classes.
All's well that ends well.

At 7/14/06, 9:14 AM, Blogger Fred said...

Parents. Thet's where it begins, and that's where I find many problems.

Glad to see someone cracking down on someone doing a great disservice to their child.

I disagree with the folks up there about letting them slip through the cracks. There are many different ways to receive an education, not just the traditional classroom setting. Let's get them in the right program.

At 7/14/06, 1:26 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Dear mommy2lots,
I am not standing in judgement of homeschooling at all. I am thrilled some parents go through all the work and care involved to do the job. Your goal is the same as mine- an educated populace. Good for you for taking on such a labor-intensive task! But from what it sounds like, the lady in the post was not educating her child.

And dear Ms. Spunky,
Thanks for your thought-provoking comment. I am not sure I see that in America's form of government, "we give deference to the private citizen." I am pondering that point, and I appreciate the impetus you have given me to do so.

And dear Dennis,
You are still giving me lots to think about. However, now you've got me thinking about some ancillary questions: do kids really decide that they don't want to learn (and should we let them)? And even if we only succeed in a few cases, isn't that worth trying? (Yeah, slightly Pollyannaish, but I'm going to go there for the sake of my ruminations.)

Because just what is it, (dear COD, I am intrigued by your statement, and this is a serious question) that a fourteen, a twelve, or even a ten-year-old child is going to do if they are not obtaining an education? How are they going to "get on with whatever it is that they want to do in life?" They can't get a job at most places.

I've also noticed that a vast majority of fifteen year olds who contemplate dropping out don't really know what they WANT to do-- they are just a little more focused on what they DON'T WANT to do.

I really appreciate these comments from all of you. I love being encouraged to ponder each one. I especially appreciate that this has not devolved into a shouting match, because no one here is the enemy. Thanks so much for your caring enough to comment.

At 7/14/06, 1:46 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

And dear Mrs. Bog,

A kindergarten teacher decided-- no it sounded like a demand-- that your child should be on drugs (Ritalin, whatever)?

I am appalled and outraged, and I don't even know Bog Jr. I am one of those who is dubious about all the children (and adults, now!) being smacked onto some drug at the drop of a chalkboard eraser, just to manipulate their behavior, personality, or what have you. One year, over 25% of the students in my classes were on some sort of medication (the kids volunteered the info or I was informed by the parents). I think too often this type of intervention is seen as a quick fix in place of other, more labor-intensive solutions. Sure, there are children who are greatly aided by pharmaceutial help. I've seen plenty of these kids over the years. But medication, for my children, would be a last step, not a first, default position.

Darlin', you were so much more calm than I would have been. I would have had a word or two to say to that teacher and their supervisor. And I would have removed him from an environment that demands chemically altering a five-year-old, too.

At 7/14/06, 5:08 PM, Anonymous Mrs. Bog said...

~~A kindergarten teacher decided-- no it sounded like a demand-- that your child should be on drugs (Ritalin, whatever)?~~

Yes. The counselor observed him, we went to one doctor who said 'ADHD and ritalin' and we went to another doctor who said 'heck no, bright little boy and bored'. School tested him as LD, private neuro-pysch tested him as dyslexic (the edu-ese and medu-ese of the same coin).
We never did medicate him. And he's done great.
Interestingly the kgarden teacher did report that in all her years of teaching (25+) she had never seen a child attack problem solving exercises in such a unique way as Bog Jr. did. Having lived with Bog Jr. since birth this did not surprise us. No child proof lock could defeat him, he drew in 3-D from unique angles, put together complex stuff before I could get out the directions. Other than a few heart stopping moments he has been a joy to rasie these past 17 years. :-)


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