askPauline's Homeschool Info
NEWS: The Religious Freedom Protection Act
à Starting in the 2003-2004 school year, some folks in PA began considering whether the then-recently-enacted Religious Freedom Protection Act (RFPA) can apply in some way, for some people, to some or all of the requirements of the PA home education law.
à Two of the first RFPA cases involve the Newborn family (Franklin Regional school district), who had been following the Pennsylvania Home Education Law (Act 169 of 1988), and the Hankin family (Bristol Township SD), who had been homeschooling underground.
à The text of the Newborn family’s case is here, and the other cases are reported to be similar. Note that these cases are NOT about the amount of paperwork required.
à Two newer cases involve the Prevish family in the Norwin SD, and the Combs family in Homer-Center SD (Indiana County). (Norwin SD had a run-in with a home educating family last year – details, spun two different ways, are here, from PHEA, and here, from PA Homeschoolers.)
à According to HSLDA, the cases are:
à Pennsylvania does not currently have a formal religious exemption option specifically designed for homeschoolers, nor do they have an “umbrella school” option, where a homeschooling family could report to a private school rather than their local school district. Those who privately educate their children at home must submit to the oversight of the local school district, generally through the Home Education Law or the Private Tutor law.
àThe vast majority of families who teach their children at home in PA do so under The Pennsylvania Home Education Law, Act 169 of 1988, commonly referred to as “the homeschooling law”. There are also several alternatives to the Home Ed. Law.
à The PA Home Education Law requires that families submit an affidavit and an outline of educational objectives at the beginning of each year. The children must meet the immunization & medical/dental requirements . Parents must keep a log of reading materials, and a portfolio of their child’s work. They must do a certain number of required days/hours and cover the required subjects. In 3rd, 5th, and 8th grades standardized testing is required. At the end of the year the child must have an evaluation. The log, portfolio, test scores, and evaluator’s report must be submitted to the school district for review at the end of the school year.
à The 501 school districts vary widely in their standards for the required home education paperwork. Some expect detailed daily information with extensive samples of work (3"-4” binders are not uncommon), while others require only two sheets of paper - the evaluator’s report and the test scores.
à Homeschoolers write “homeschooling” as one word, to show that it is a process quite different than “school at home”. “Homeschooling” is a broad term that includes many forms of home-based education. When referring to the PA RFPA cases, the proper, more narrow term would be “home educating” (“home educators”, etc.), since the families involved are challenging the PA Home Education Law.
The Religious Freedom Protection Act (RFPA) is a relatively new law, and it remains to be seen whether it will become a viable option for homeschoolers in PA.
Some families decided to attempt to use the RFPA for the 2003-2004 school year. Below are some links to articles about the RFPA cases, with a few comments. (Unfortunately, while there are sensible arguments on both sides of these cases, some of these reporters, especially the editorial writers, have not done their homework, and do not understand either the cases or the home ed law. It’s also becoming clear that districts vary considerably in what records they expect home educating parents to submit.)
è A new suit was filed in state court in August of 2009. According to this article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Dr. Mark Newborn and his wife, Maryalice, want a local judge to find that the state lacks jurisdiction to require parents who home-school their children to submit documentation about their curriculum and to place limits on religious education. The Newborns contend government authorities such as school districts should not be permitted to restrict and closely monitor what is taught in the home. "The home education statute requires that Dr. and Mrs. Newborn cede jurisdiction to the school district and become excessively entangled with this government agency relative to their religious education in that the home education statute gives the superintendent authority, jurisdiction and discretion to approve the appropriateness of the religious education Dr. and Mrs. Newborn provide their children," according to the lawsuit. See also this commentary.
è HSLDA filed an appeal on the federal constitutional questions to the Supreme Court on 11/29/2008; the court declined to hear the case on 1/26/2009. See here.
According to HSLDA (Aug 21, 2008), "The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ... ruled
è According to HSLDA, (September 14, 2006), "On December 8, 2005, the Court ruled that Act 169 does not impose a "substantial burden" on the free exercise of religion. To bring the district court case to a close in a manner that would be fit for appellate review, the district court judge ordered a second round of motions in his court. He gave express permission to HSLDA to point out to him in our round-two briefing how his round-one opinion regarding "substantial burden" went astray. The court again ruled against HSLDA, granting summary judgment to the school districts on May 25, 2006. ... HSLDA has appealed the decision to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on June 16, 2006.
Summer, 2006: Judge Upholds PA Home Education Law: HSLDA Suit Flops in Federal Court
Early October, 2004: Editorials and Articles
Prosecutions threaten parents' rights
è 10/14/04, Life lessons
/ Home schoolers shouldn't upset state law
Home-school policies debated
10/11/04, Home school
parents sue state over religious freedom
è 10/4/04 Home-schoolers chafe at state law – OK, I just have to mention this, and here’s as good a place as any. It drives me crazy that newspapers continue to use the hyphenated term “home-schoolers”. Homeschoolers themselves do not use the hyphen – who better to define the correct terminology? Given the subject of these articles, it would actually be more accurate to use the term “home educators”, as there are several legal ways to homeschool in Pennsylvania, and these cases specifically apply to what the law calls “Home Education Programs”. (See page for details on other homeschooling options in PA.)
Early October, 2004: A series of Editorials and Articles
Parents Challenge Home-School Rules
Having to Prove Innocence
è 10/13/04 Should
Follow the rules: Jock and Trish Lenzi speak out against HSLDA´s Religious
Whose Rules to Follow
Two New Cases! à Late September, 2004
PittsburghLIVE.com: Homeschooling law challenged
Early September 2004 Articles:
è 9/1/04, Agape Press: Christian Family Fights to Home School Without State Oversight – This brief article clearly articulates the Newborn family’s religious objections to complying with the law. (Finally!) “MaryAlice Newborn … says she does not object to the state's burdensome paperwork, but rather to the necessity of seeking the public school superintendent's final approval over her children's education. "It's that approval that we feel is unscriptural," Newborn says. "It's clear to us that God has called us to home school. It's clear to us that Christ is the head of all men and the father is the head of the family, and that [we are not to] give what is holy to the unholy. And yet, every year, we turn over our religious education to the secular school district for their approval." … she says they … object to the government having oversight in the matter of her children's godly education, which she and her husband view as their biblically-mandated responsibility as Christian parents.” (This article discusses the Hankin family’s objections, and this details the Newborns’ constitutional concerns.)
More Late August 2004 Articles and Editorials:
Here are two well-researched articles on the RFPA cases – a breath of fresh air after last week’s rash of sloppy reporting.
è 8/29/04: State sets the rules
(phillyBurbs.com) – This is one of the best articles on the RFPA cases so
far, in that the author seems to have done her homework and taken care to get
the facts right.
è Christian Science
Monitor 8/31/2004: Does the
state have a right to monitor?
è 8/29/04 -- A quiet revolution (phillyBurbs.com) – A nice, positive, “back to school” piece on homeschooling. No mention of the RFPA cases.
Mid August 2004 EDITORIALS:
8/17/04: Why Hold Homeschoolers
To a Higher Standard?
Mid August 2004 EDITORIALS:
è Pocono Record
8/11/04: Homeschoolers need to
report progress, too
è Pocono Record Online, 8/15/04: School districts, homeschoolers still have a duty to each other – Another editorial critical of the RFPA cases, written by someone (a former homeschool dad) who apparently hasn’t read them. The unnamed author argues that reporting is important, because when a homeschooled child enrolls in school, “Educators need to have some clue about what these students learned in order to ensure a successful integration.” He completely misunderstands the idea that the RFPA cases are NOT objecting to keeping records.
è ABCNEWS.com : The Dark Side of Home Schooling – Not about the RFPA cases, but a nowadays-rare negative article about homeschooling. “Judith Wagner, a professor of child development and education at Whittier College, said that parents considering home schooling their children should ask themselves, "What am I doing by making my child so different from all the other kids in the neighborhood?" Um, two of the three little girls on my street are homeschooled. By Judith’s logic, that means homeschooling is the right choice for all three of them. Huh? Didn’t Judith’s mom ever tell her that just because everybody else is doing something doesn’t mean you should too? Shouldn’t parents make educational choices based on their child’s needs and their family’s values and resources, not on what everyone else is doing?
è Patriot-News, 8/9/04: Abigail Eagleson, 13: keeping portfolio was drudgery. Kimber Stevenson, 18: It was easy and fun. – Yet another article that grossly overstates the requirements of the PA home ed law. The law requires “a log, made contemporaneously with the instruction, which designates by title the reading materials used”. Most people I know keep a log of books their child has read and a simple one-page calendar of “school days”. Even if you use the PDE’s & HSLDA’s more stringent interpretation of the log, a simple check-off chart like this will suffice.
è Aug 6, 2004 –HSLDA´s update on the Newborn RFPA case. Basically the judge decided to hear the case. (Note that, contrary to this article, homeschool families in PA do NOT need to provide “detailed curriculum” -- a simple one-page statement of objectives is sufficient; no mention of specific curriculum is needed -- nor do they need to “submit to regular testing” -- children need only be tested 3 times during the K-12 years.)
Early August 2004 EDITORIALS:
è Here are a few editorials/letters critical of the RFPA cases. So far, I have not seen any in favor of the cases. Please email me if you find any!
è Philadelphia Inquirer | 08/05/2004 | A sin to dismiss home-school law – an editorial critical of the Hankin’s RFPA case.
è Philadelphia Inquirer | 08/03/2004 | Letters | Children belong to God, not to parents or state – a letter to the editor critical of the Newborn RFPA case.
- Editorial: Religion Beside
Point of Lawsuit – This editorial, critical of the RFPA cases, is from
The Sentinel in Carlisle. Here
are a few excerpts.
Late July/Early August 2004 Articles:
As the Newborn case goes to court (starting 7/28/04),
there are quite a few news stories about the case. (It should be noted that many of these stories include
inaccurate information about PA’s homeschooling requirements.)
Inquirer | 07/28/2004 | A Bucks County couple have sued a school district,
challenging rules to monitor their children's education. – This is
another, more detailed article focusing primarily on the underground Hankin
family. It’s well worth
reading the entire article. Here
are some excerpts:
è 5/6/2004 -- Home-school suit centers on religious freedom – “More than 50 Pennsylvania families who home school their children for religious reasons are using a little-known state law to force school districts out of the educational process...Tom and Babette Hankin of Croydon said these requirements are a substantial burden on their religious expression...In February, Mark and Maryalice Newborn filed a similar lawsuit against the Franklin Regional School District in Westmoreland County court. The Hankins and the Newborns don't have a chance, according to the ACLU… “ [I don’t think the ACLU representative really understood the nature of the suit. This article also has a quote from Norma Young that’s worth reading.]
è 5/6/2004 -- Couple say district should butt out of home-schooling – “A pastor from the couple's church attests in the lawsuit that their children's education is based on religion. The Hankins wrote letters to the district… protesting the home-schooling requirements, citing religious freedom. Then school officials mailed truancy notices to the Hankins. The Hankins claim the state's Religious Freedom Protection Act and the Constitution's First and 14th amendments protect them. The lawsuit alleges that requiring parents to list what educational materials they use to teach their children is an invasion of privacy.”
è 4/28/2004 -- NEPA News - “A Bucks County couple who home school their children object to a law that the local school district approve their teaching plan. Thomas and Babette Hankin filed suit Monday against the Bristol Township School District, saying its involvement violates their religious and privacy rights. The couple has seven children, four of them school-age…School officials discovered in March that the family was not complying with the district's home-schooling requirements…”
Some RFA information from HSLDA:
è 7/15/2003 E-lert--Religious Freedom Act May Provide Relief From Homeschool Law -- Describes HSLDA’s packet of information for families who are considering using this law. The packet itself, which is very informative, is here , but you must be a member of HSLDA to access it.
è 2/24/2003 -- Chris Klicka Letter on Pennsylvania RFA -- A brief intro to the RFPA.
è 1/16/2003 -- Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Bill Becomes Law – from HSLDA.
Again – this is a new law, and it remains to be seen whether it will prove useful to homeschoolers.