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Home Education and the Law

image of the Bible on a pile of school books

Parents who want to educate their children at home will find a bewildering diversity of laws governing the homeschool. Christian parents have the responsibility of training their children (Deuteronomy 6:7), and they must determine how they can best fulfill that responsibility. On the other hand, the state has a legitimate interest in the education of its citizens who will someday take part in the democratic process.

Legal conditions regarding homeschools are unique to each state. Some states establish excessive regulations, whereas others have no regulations at all. The federal government has made no final decisions on the constitutionality of homeschools. At times the government has ably supported the rights of parents, such as in the case of Wisconsin vs. Yoder. All courts, however, now take for granted the interest of the state in the education and socialization of its citizens. How can parents establish a home education system that will satisfy state demands while maintaining the freedom to teach their own children?

Before beginning a homeschool, parents can take several steps which will improve their chances of success and thus help to satisfy state education demands. The first step is a commitment to excellence in the planning and operating of their school. The Bible teaches that a wise man counts the cost before beginning a major task. Research reveals that homeschools generally have a life expectancy of a year or less, possibly because the parents were not prepared for all the responsibilities that running a school entails. Unless parents determine to have a professional approach to education, they cannot expect the state to recognize their school as a legitimate institution.

The second step parents need to consider is seeking competent legal advice about the special problems connected with their school district. Because legal conditions on homeschooling vary so widely, a thorough knowledge of state requirements will help the teacher/parent to cooperate as much as possible with local authorities. Experienced parents in the vicinity are one source of information about potential legal pitfalls. Good advice from an attorney is also invaluable, but few lawyers specialize in this field.

One helpful source of information is the Home School Legal Defense Association. For a yearly membership fee they provide references, advice, and liability defense if the parents are taken to court.

The third important step in preparing for a home education program is to choose a curriculum appropriate to the age and achievement of the children. A well-organized plan will demonstrate a professional attitude toward the task. The choice of appropriate curriculum will show knowledge and understanding of the child's learning capabilities. State educators look for these things as well as for some testing procedures to evaluate the success of the program. Officials are also impressed when parents have resources, such as a university phone number or a local association of homeschools, to assist them when questions arise.

The last step is to allow the child to participate in church and wholesome community activities. A good home is the primary place to learn social interaction, but the state will also be looking for student involvement in civic activities to show training in social skills.

In most cases the homeschool parent is wise to cooperate with local authorities as much as possible. The Bible instructs Christians to keep government ordinances (I Peter 2:13). If parents do become involved in litigation, their previous willingness to work with officials will allow the proceedings to concentrate on issues, not misdemeanors.

But if at all possible, parents should avoid the cost and the unpredictability of a court case. Only the most solid cases should be brought to court, to insure beneficial rulings for all homeschools. Cooperation with state authorities whenever possible will help parents maintain the freedom of teaching their own children.

The challenges of home education, particularly from a legal aspect, are great. But the rewards are even greater when the school is run properly.

Putting Credibility on Paper

She's a junior in the nursing program of a Christian university. Her success in college has made her missionary parents understandably proud—especially since she received all of her pre-college instruction at home.

The transition from homeschooling to college study could have been difficult, if not impossible, without a key element that prepared her for both admission to and survival in a university: records. In her words, "That was my motivation [and] my accountability." During her homeschool experience, this student became accustomed to a regular schedule of demonstrating her knowledge and then documenting her performance—just like in college. Having a child learn accountability for what he has studied is just one advantage of grading and recording academic progress.

Record keeping is also essential in monitoring your child's progress in a home education situation. One of the best ways to obtain records is through regular testing in each subject. Testing will give structure to your program by helping you to schedule classes and assignments. Planning ahead demonstrates an organized program for your children and aids them in developing discipline in their preparation and study time.

Carefully kept records will also make acceptance into college easier, since admissions offices require a record of the students' previous academic progress. Acceptance into a college or a university validates what went before—it confirms that the previous training was adequate preparation.

Finally, careful record keeping of students' progress will give authorities reason to call your school just as valid as the conventional school. Your written records will provide proof of progress and subject mastery for both you and your children.

To begin and maintain organized accurate records, home educators should avail themselves of the same tool that conventional educators use—a report-card system. BJU Press has report cards available for each grade level. These cards will allow you to record your child's progress in a format as viable as any conventional system.

Another way to monitor academic achievement is through yearly testing with BJU Press Testing & Evaluation. A nationally recognized test will allow you to see where your child ranks nationally with other students of the same age and grade level. BJU Press Testing & Evaluation will provide you with a confidential evaluation of your child's achievement. Save this report along with your other school records in specific record keeping folders for easy future access.

Having readily available and verifiable records does not take away from the individuality of your homeschool situation. Rather, it helps to give your school the status of a credible educational institution—and it documents that credibility. Beyond this goal, keeping records also teaches your child discipline and accountability and motivates him to achieve the best that he possibly can.

* Learn more about BJU Press Testing & Evaluation

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