Family & Education

Homeschooling by the Rules

A conversation with HSLDA attorney Tj Schmidt
BY Barbara Danza TIMESeptember 8, 2020 PRINT

The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), a legal advocacy group for homeschoolers, has recently received an increase in requests for representation in some states. 

As many new homeschoolers step out along their journey, it’s important they understand their legal rights and responsibilities. I asked Thomas J. “Tj” Schmidt, a staff attorney at HSLDA, for his insights and advice.

The Epoch Times: Please introduce us to HSLDA. What is it, and what work does it do?

Tj Schmidt: HSLDA is a national organization focused on helping parents homeschool their children. We explain the law in each state and help parents when they have difficulties with local school officials or just about anyone else. We provide both legal and practical advice while advocating for any parent who is interested in homeschooling for any reason. HSLDA was founded by homeschool parents, for homeschool parents, almost 40 years ago. 

The Epoch Times: While homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, each state has its own regulations when it comes to homeschooling. How can a new homeschooling family best ensure they’re following the rules?

Mr. Schmidt: Every state is different when it comes to what is required! But we explain in easy-to-understand terms what you must do to educate your child. HSLDA has a series of articles for every state that will walk parents through the basic requirements. Members can speak directly with the team for their state and get any form that might be needed to withdraw from school and begin homeschooling. We also provide individual assistance for each member who needs step-by-step directions.

The Epoch Times: The first step to homeschooling a child who has attended public school is to withdraw that child from the school district. What is the best way to do this?

Mr. Schmidt: For most states, a parent should notify their local school in writing of their intent to withdraw and homeschool their child. In a few states, a specific form to withdraw might be necessary. Depending on the state, the parent will often need to submit a notice of their intent to homeschool to their local district or state department of education. If the parent is pulling a child out after school has already started, then following the proper procedure is extremely important to follow—and to document that you have done so. In some states, a truancy action can be started in as little as three to six missed days.

The Epoch Times: HSLDA has seen a significant increase in requests for legal representation in certain states. What do you attribute this to? Can you give us an overall update?

Mr. Schmidt: HSLDA has seen an increase in a need for our help in just about every state. Many states didn’t decide what they were going to do to reopen until very late, and some are still struggling to try and implement the hybrid/remote plan that they are going to follow. Because of this, many parents didn’t learn until late what options might be available. 

We believe there are several different reasons for the increase in the need for help in dealing with the legal challenges. 

First, many school officials are struggling to implement these policies, and there is plenty of confusion. Second, because many parents are deciding that what is going to be offered will not work for their student or family and they are going to homeschool, it appears that some school officials are willing to try anything to keep kids enrolled in school. Finally, some states do have some complicated procedures, and that means there are plenty of ways in which both school officials and parents can make mistakes. But we are certainly seeing plenty of desperation on the part of school officials to try to keep kids enrolled in public school. 

The Epoch Times: What legal challenges should a homeschooling family be prepared to face from their local government or school districts?

Mr. Schmidt: The primary issue right now is problems withdrawing from school. Many school officials all across the country are claiming that a parent must use an accredited curriculum in order to homeschool (which isn’t true in any state). Others want parents to come down for a meeting before “allowing” the parent to withdraw their child. Another common statement is that if they want to re-enroll their child back into the school system that they could have problems. Some school officials have even said that they might not have room for students to come back. This is almost laughable because every state has an obligation to provide a free appropriate public education.

The Epoch Times: What do you recommend a homeschooling family do to best protect themselves legally?

Mr. Schmidt: I would suggest that parents educate themselves as to what is required, find a local homeschool support group, keep records of any paperwork and school work, and join HSLDA.

The Epoch Times: Is there any final advice you’d like to offer homeschoolers?

Mr. Schmidt: Relax. While education and academics are important, you don’t have to try and recreate a traditional school in your home. In fact, your children will likely benefit more if you are able to evaluate the needs of your child (academically, emotionally, and mentally) and focus on incorporating those needs into your educational program. You have the flexibility within a homeschool program to provide a much more individualized educational program for your child. But recognize that you don’t need to create a genius or accomplish everything in the first day, first month, or even the first year. And remember, HSLDA is here to help you every step of the way.

Barbara Danza is a mom of two, an MBA, a beach lover, and a kid at heart. Here, diving into the challenges and opportunities of parenting in the modern age. Particularly interested in the many educational options available to families today, the renewed appreciation of simplicity in kids’ lives, the benefits of family travel, and the importance of family life in today’s society.
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