Idaho Homeschool History
The Golden Age of Homeschooling
In the years following 2009, Idaho Education Code 33-202 read:
33-202 SCHOOL ATTENDANCE COMPULSORY … a parent or guardian shall either cause the child to beprivately instructed by, or at the direction of, his parent or guardian; or enrolled in a public school or public charter school, including an online or virtual charter school or private or parochial school…
With the stroke of Governor C. L. Otter’s pen, in 2009 Idaho gained the most favorable homeschooling law in the nation. Our journey from prison to freedom was twenty-five years long. Each step along the way gained forward progression, taking us closer to obtaining autonomy. Could it get any better?
Amazingly, yes, it could! In the wake of the legislature’s passage of our new statute, in 2010 a dialogue began between the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, and our homeschool legal counsel. Would there be a way to reduce the friction with Child Protection Services workers in cases where claims of educational neglect are made against homeschooling families?
The person in charge of training CPS workers for the Department of Health and Welfare was the Secretary of the Governor’s Task Force on Children at Risk. Having seen a working relationship develop between the Task Force and Idaho’s homeschool organizations during our joint efforts on the new statute, she indicated a willingness to consider our request.
Throughout our interaction with the Task Force, we consistently maintained our resolution that home educators should be presumed innocent until proven guilty of educational abuse. At the same time, we supported the idea that home education should never be used as a shield from prosecution in the event that neglect was actually taking place. Surprisingly, we were not the only ones who felt this way.
We began by building a team of experts from both state organizations, the Idaho Coalition of Home Educators, and Christian Homeschoolers of Idaho State, and Idaho’s assigned attorney from Home School Legal Defense Association. As a starting point, we considered what it would be like to be a social worker, unfamiliar with homeschooling, and tasked with investigation. We recognized that both sides in this tension were operating with a bit of a caricature of the other side. We resolved to not let our prejudices color our perspectives to the extent possible.
By its very nature, homeschooling may look quite different from the common public school template, and still be very effective. It was important that we help the CPS workers to recognize these differences in a positive way.
We wrote an assessment process for intake social workers to follow when they received the first notice of an alleged case of educational abuse. It was our hope that the escalation of stressful situations, such as social workers at the door, could be avoided in cases where it was not warranted.
After writing the assessment standards, at the suggestion of the Chairman of CHOIS, we decided to go a step further and provide social workers with some additional perspectives on home education. We hoped that doing so would help them recognize the differences in teaching methods, curriculum choices and learning schedules. Not being educators themselves, social workers are sometimes ill-equipped to recognize the wide range of competency within an age bracket. They may consequently see any deviance from public schools’ instruction methodologies as automatically being neglectful.
We submitted our suggestions, and we were very pleased when Health and Welfare reported back to us that they were adopting our guidelines nearly word-for-word, as well as using our perspectives in their training. If you would like to read more about the assessment process or the additional perspectives, please read and print this article.
Every homeschooler in Idaho should read these guidelines and become familiar with them. In the event that a Health and Welfare investigator (with or without a Sheriff’s Deputy or Police Officer also present) should ever arrive at your door, here are questions you should ask at the outset:
- Are you familiar with the department’s Guidelines for the Assessment of Educational Neglect? (If not, provide the investigator with your extra copy)
- What is the specific accusation that you are investigating? (i.e., Educational neglect? Physical abuse? Other? See item 4 of Guidelines)
- Do you know the identity of the person who made the complaint? (If not, they should not have contacted you. Under item 1 of the Guidelines, the accusation should simply have been noted in their files with no investigation undertaken.)
- What specifically is the “credible and sufficient detailed information that my child is not receiving instruction” that you believe exists? (Unless there is such information, the investigator has contacted you prematurely under item 4 of the Guidelines)
- What sorts of information would satisfy you that the accusation is unfounded? (Guidelines item 5)
- How much time will I have to provide you with information to disprove the accusation?
This type of an encounter is very stressful, and, thankfully, uncommon. Our guidelines have helped social workers to weed out the anonymous and ill-founded report long before the point where a social worker has to knock on a door. In the unlikely event that a situation escalates to this level, it is very important to remain calm and cordial.
Finally, even with these occurrences being rare, both of Idaho’s state organizations strongly recommend that all homeschoolers join the Home School Legal Defense Association, where peace of mind can be purchased at a low price. A member of HSLDA can simply greet the social worker or deputy at the door with their phone already dialed, and an HSLDA attorney will take over the conversation from there.
We feel honored that the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare sought our input in this procedural change. They have been using these guidelines since 2010 without incident.
To access the complete series on Idaho Homeschool History, click here.