Bill would add legal protections for homeschool parents

Livi Stanford

Sen. Dennis Baxley

A state lawmaker has once again has filed legislation that would rein in district inquiries to parents who register home education programs.

The bill comes in response to concerns among parents that districts add hurdles for homeschool registration. That has likely contributed to a decline in home schooling in some districts, even though state statistics show its popularity is growing statewide.

Florida law requires home schoolers to register with their local school districts. They have to send a signed notice of intent to the school district superintendent with the students’ names, birthdates and addresses. The bill would bar districts from requiring other information from parents. It would also clarify that a home education program is not a school district program.

The statute does not ask that parents provide proof of residency and a birth certificate. However, the Miami-Dade School Board adopted a policy requiring parents to provide those documents. And parents have complained of similar practices in other counties, including Broward, Hillsborough and St. Lucie.

“For that individual family to be supported in their decision to choose a different path when today we have so many more resources for home school curriculums they should not be impeded in the pursuit of what is best for each and every child,” said Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who filed the legislation.

Legal advocates say districts like Miami-Dade began requesting extra documentation from home schoolers after the death of 10-year-old Nubia Barahona, whose body was found in the back of a pickup truck in 2011. An investigation by the Department of Children and Families concluded she was a victim of child abuse. Investigators also noted that, in 2010, Nubia’s parents pulled her out of school system and homeschooled her.“A lot of these superintendents feel like it is their responsibility to make sure there is no child abuse or anything that would be harmful to a child,” said Brenda Dickinson, a lobbyist with the Home Education Foundation. “That is the Department of Children and Families’ responsibility.”

John Schuster, executive director of news media relations for Miami-Dade schools, wrote in an email that the district also wants to confirm where families reside.

“[B]y statute, applicants for homeschooling must be residents of the county where they are making that application,” he wrote. “In the course of their education, students may request and receive many different services from a school district, so it is contingent upon districts to ensure that applicants are residents of the county.”

Dickinson said districts don’t have the authority to add rules beyond the law’s requirements. Baxley’s bill would make that more clear.

“We need to make sure they don’t feel they have the responsibility or the authority to add or further regulate the home education program,” she said.

Baxley’s bill would also require districts to give homeschool students to career and technical courses and programs. Similar bills have passed the House in previous years, but stalled in the Senate.

While also remaining hopeful about the legislation, Baxley said he is also a realist because many bills die.

“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance,” he said. “At the end of the day I am very pleased to see the movement of empowering parents and recentering the traditional system to know this is the future. How do we empower each individual child? The institutional survival will be based on how well we are doing it.”

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