A new homeschool family was given an unwelcomed greeting at the beginning of last school year when a truant officer visited their home in western Illinois to issue them an intrusive questionnaire.
Shortly after deciding to withdraw their child from public school in Quincy, Illinois, in order to homeschool, a truant officer arrived at the family’s front doorstep to inspect and “check up” on the former publicly schooled student’s home instruction program.
Attorneys at the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) — a Christian nonprofit organization based in Purcellville, Virginia, that champions parental rights and the freedom of home-based instruction — were soon notified by the parents about what took place. The family expressed their uneasiness over the intrusive nature of the visit.
“[The truant officer] said he was just checking on the child, since the family’s homeschool program was not registered with the state,” HSLDA reported. “The family explained that homeschoolers are not required to register, and the truancy officer said he knew that.”
Interrogation by paper
Besides verbally questioning their validity as legitimate educators of their own child, the truant officer employed by the state continued the interrogation by issuing them an extensive questionnaire and demanding that the parents answer the invasive written inquiry.
“Its self-described purpose was to determine whether the family’s program was ‘at least commensurate with the standards of public schools,’” HSLDA attorneys divulged.
To determine whether the child was being “properly” instructed according to state standards and to obtain as much information about the homeschool student as possible, question upon question was presented to the family to answer — as if the “wrong” answer would disqualify them from being permitted to teach their own child.
“It asked for the education level of the parents, whether their child had been classified as a special education student, how many minutes of instruction were provided daily, and what subjects were being taught,” lawyers with the legal group informed. “It [also] asked for any other information that might be helpful ‘in determining the success of your child.’”
The homeschool family’s fears were escalated after reading the threatening statement found at the end of the form.
“After reviewing your response, or lack thereof, to this inquiry, a determination will be made as to whether or not your child is in compliance with the compulsory attendance laws,” the local public school district’s form read.
Ending the inquisition
Reporting the unwarranted visit and interrogative form to HSLDA Senior Counsel Scott A. Woodruff, the family’s bullying by public school officials and their invasive policies soon came to a close.
“Public schools have no jurisdiction over private schools (in Illinois, homeschools are considered private schools), and … private schools are not required to provide education ‘commensurate’ with public schools,” Woodruff explained to the truant officer in a letter.
Woodruff also asserted that public school officials do not have the authority to dictate the educational standards of children being taught at home, noting that the questioning was inappropriate and unwarranted.
“’[T]he success of the child’ is not a legally relevant question in determining whether the child’s attendance at a public or private school satisfies compulsory attendance,” the Virginia-based attorney asserted to the truant officer.
Pressing the issue of the home visit and written interrogation, Woodruff warned the public school officer that if the state agency took action against the homeschool family for merely choosing to ignore the questionnaire, it would be violating due process principles by implementing an unconstitutional procedure.
After sending the truant officer the letter demanding that he close the file on the harassed homeschool family, neither Woodruff nor the parents he was representing heard anything from the Quincy school official.