& Public Schools
An article I wrote for the PA Homeschoolers newsletter about the fight to preserve the opportunity for homeschooler participation in the Penn Delco, PA school district. I've added a few links and helpful notes.
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Should Homeschoolers Be Allowed To Participate in Public School Classes and Activities?
How We Got a "YES" answer in Penn Delco, PA
I homeschooled my oldest son for three years. In 1998 he started third grade, attending the local public school for the first time.
That fall, my brother, who serves on the Penn Delco school board (our district), let me know that a proposal had been made to change the district's policy towards homeschoolers. The old policy had pretty much reiterated state law. The new policy would ban all services - curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular, to homeschoolers except those required by law for special education students. The board would be voting on the policy at their upcoming meeting (in about four days) and the mood seemed to be that it would pass. My brother seemed to think it was a good idea! Thrashing it out with him gave me a good idea of the board member's concerns. Basically, anything that might end up costing lots of money or setting a precedent whereby private school students would also be entitled to services was seen as a loophole that must be closed as soon as possible.
I had read of similar situations in the PA Homeschoolers newsletter, and I remembered the advice given by one author. She said to just keep getting the board to put off the vote until you were sure they'd vote your way. With very little time to do much of anything before the meeting I took that route. My plan of action included several things:
Myself and a homeschooling father went to the meeting, and both of us spoke. I had never spoken at a meeting before, but an acquaintance who was there on another issue gave me some pointers. He said that when I spoke, the board would not answer questions or otherwise respond - it was a speech, not a dialog. I'm glad he told me this, so I was not looking for feedback on what I was saying!
I dressed carefully for the meeting - people just pay more attention to someone wearing a suit. I tried to appear calm, knowledgeable, respectful, and not demanding. I introduced myself saying that two of my children currently attend public school [we are now homeschooling again], but I had homeschooled for three years. I briefly mentioned the following points:
The principal at the local elementary school, who had been very supportive of homeschoolers, had recently resigned. This meant that we could share stories of her support without worrying about getting her in trouble!
The homeschooling father who spoke told of his family's experiences with the schools. Among other things he had taken his children on a field trip to the district's planetarium. He also made an important point that had not occurred to me. In Pennsylvania, homeschooled kids must report to the Superintendent, who is responsible for monitoring their education. It is reasonable, therefore, to consider them students under the jurisdiction of the school district, much as you would students in home-bound instruction due to illness, or students who attend special programs at other schools. This, I think, from the board's point of view, is the most important point of all. It makes homeschoolers "us" and not "them"!
The board listened to what we had to say, and the Superintendent made a few remarks, assuring the board that she had looked into the matter carefully and researched other districts' policies (although she did not give specifics). When it came time for a vote, the motion was made. Unbelievably, no one was willing to second it. The motion thus died for lack of a second, something that my brother said he had never seen before.
They moved to discuss it at the next study session, and we came prepared with more people and more information. The Superintendent asked the high school principal to come and express his concerns, although he had not had enough notice to do any research. He raised a few minor issues (What if a homeschooler is on a sports team - how will we know if he's absent and therefore ineligible to play that day? How will we know if his schoolwork is at C level or above?) The board decided, however, that there was not enough interest to go any farther, and that the policy change would not even be put on the next meeting's agenda. (After the meeting I shared information from Deb Bell's packet with the principal, and he was very impressed and enthusiastic!)
The proposed policy is thus dead, and the existing policy, which doesn't give homeschoolers a right to services but doesn't deny them either, stands. I realize that many homeschoolers want no interaction with their district at all, but it's nice to have that path clear for those who may want or need it.