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.