Written by Diane O’Burns
Illinois parents, along with millions of other parents across the nation, were tossed into an at-home learning environment this past spring that the public school coined “Homeschooling.” The public schools were ill-equipped for this change-over, despite years of “e-learning days” when public school children learned how to use the software during snow days and other days off.
During this time of COVID-19 homeschooling, many parents reconnected with their children, enjoyed the time spent with them, and heeded the words of Bible teacher Dr. Tony Evans: “Don’t waste the Covid.”
This parent-child reconnect helped foster additional learning opportunities when parents realized that they really are the best teachers for their children. Many parents actually threw the public school busy work paper packets into the trash and began teaching their children themselves.
As a veteran homeschool mom, I was keenly aware of the number of parents entering into homeschool groups asking questions about how to supplement the busy work and get on to some real teaching. These parents lamented the long ZOOM meetings, sometimes 4-5 per day, plus all the busy work in addition to the crying, bored, and bleary-eyed children who stared at screens for way too long each day. These parents reached out for help and found a loving homeschooling community waiting to accept them.
Special online communities were created for these COVID-19 homeschoolers to encourage them in the middle of a pandemic. The Illinois Christian Home Educators (ICHE) started a special Facebook group called Homeschoolers Encouraging Loving Parents (H.E.L.P.), whose mission is to provide “help for those suddenly schooling at home.” In addition, there is a Facebook page called Illinois Homeschooling, seeking to remind parents that “there is nothing better than networking when you homeschool.”
Becoming part of these communities as well as getting involved in local homeschool support groups has helped parents make the decision to leave the public school system for home education. These parents were encouraged to send letters of withdrawal to their child’s school informing them that the child was transferring to a private school. No more information is required.
School Administrators Intimidate Parents
In Illinois, homeschools are legal private schools. Some parents who thought they were on a solid footing with their friendly local public school decided to go in person to the school office instead of sending their letter to withdraw by mail as is recommended. Some of these parents were completely shocked and caught off guard by the hostile environment they found themselves in. For the first time in their lives, they were making educational decisions for their children, and government school administrators were not pleased with this newfound parental right.
Parents were told in some cases that the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) could become involved if they began homeschooling. They were told that truant/resource officers could come to their home at any time to make sure the children were being properly educated. Parents were told that by law they had to register their child with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), which is not accurate. In 2011, a homeschool registration bill SB136 was tabled after more than 4,000 Illinois homeschoolers gathered at the state capitol in Springfield to show their disapproval of this bill. Illinois homeschoolers do not register with the ISBE, the local school, or the Regional Office of Education (ROE).
Some Illinois parents were told they had to bring in their 2020-2021 school year curriculum (books, workbooks, teaching materials, videos etc.) and show complete lesson plans for the entire school year and that these all had to be approved by the school district. School district teachers are not even required to complete an entire school year of lesson plans at one time.
Others were told that all Individualized Educational Plans (IEP) services would be denied if they chose to homeschool their special needs children. Again, this is not accurate information. According to the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), students with special needs may be eligible for services, and “homeschool students with disabilities have a right to enroll part-time in the public school in the district where they reside.”
During a Taylorville school district board meeting, superintendent Dr. Chris Dougherty, PhD, said this regarding the choice to homeschool:
We’re more than willing to work with families who make that decision, then realize they are in over their heads because we are the educational experts. The ROE said really, once they start the year in that status, we can honor it and they can be a homeschool student the entire year. But because of the pandemic and because we run education for the community we will absolutely review them case by case and get kids where they need to be and support to the families (heard on taylorvilledailynews.com).
Here, parents were told that they did not have the educational background and expertise required to homeschool their children. This is coming from a school district in which in 2019, only 35 percent of students met state standards in English Language Arts (ELA) and only 29 percent of the district’s students were meeting the state standards in math. If those numbers are not enough to scare you, then maybe the fact that in 2017 (the most recent year listed), 57.4 percent of the Taylorville High School graduates required remediation in college. That 57.4 percent only includes students that actually went on to attend community college and not the total number of graduates that year.
Think about the 57.4 percent that needed remediation in basic course materials. These students had been in school for 12+ years, and some as many as 15 years when you include kindergarten, preschool or Head Start. Over 57 percent were ineligible to enroll in college level courses such as basic composition or a college-level math course. The Illinois state average is only 44.2 percent of students needing remedial college course work. It would be fair to say that with those low numbers, parents would be wise to homeschool their children and get them as far away from the “educational experts” (as Dougherty calls them) in the Taylorville school district as possible. (Statistics come from illinoisreportcard.com)
This month, the Taylorville CUSD #3 Facebook page, as well as a letter sent to parents, reads,
Homeschooling requires parents to withdraw from school, complete the state form, and inform the school district and Regional Office of Education of homeschooling.*
The Taylorville school district has been known as unfriendly to homeschoolers for many years. In addition to the above statement from the Taylorville superintendent, parents have been told that if they choose to homeschool their child, the child may never be allowed to return to the public school. They have also been told that high school credits earned in homeschool will not count toward graduation if the child returns to public school in high school. The comments to parents differ between superintendent and principals as to whether or not children are allowed back into school after attending homeschool.
Even in past years, principals and superintendents in Taylorville have threatened to sic the DCFS on parents inquiring about homeschooling or turning in letters to withdraw their child to homeschool, and they have sent parents to the Christian County Courthouse to fill out “mandatory paperwork to protect against truancy claims.”
Imagine how intimidating that was to that mom who only wanted to make an informed educational decision for her children. She went to the school office that was normally friendly and helpful and was told that she had to go to the courthouse to fill out paperwork to homeschool. She then goes timidly to the courthouse and is put in a room with a supposed truant officer (she never did find out who the man in uniform was that made her fill out papers to be allowed to homeschool). I have seen copies of the papers that she was required to fill out, and they are the homeschool registration form from the ISBE website. This registration paper is not required to be filled out in Illinois to homeschool. It is voluntary, not required, and can be detrimental to homeschoolers.
These lies and others create unnecessary difficulties for parents seeking to homeschool their children in the upcoming school year.
This is Part 1 of an extended article about parents seeking to homeschool their children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Diane O’Burns is a veteran homeschool mother from Illinois.
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