Where I live, homeschooling is legal. With a caveat.
The law officially is that there is compulsory schooling from the age of 3 until the age of 18 in my country. (Which is something I find problematic for too many reasons to list.) In order to homeschool, you need to request a special exemption from the board of education in your district. Many people do not request this exemption and simply homeschool their children without getting governmental approval. That is what is commonly done here, and what those "in the know" recommend, as by asking for permission to homeschool, you're essentially telling the board of education that you're putting the decision in their hands, but if you show via your actions that you'll homeschool no matter what, they're more likely to approve of your homeschooling and give you an exemption.
So from the time my oldest was born, he and the rest of my kids were home with me, other than when Lee was six and Ike was 4, when I sent them to a semi private school for a year to learn the local language. I never requested an exemption for homeschooling from the board of education.
Roughly a year ago, I got a call from our local truant officer, who informed us that she knows we are homeschooling, and that we need to get approval for that from the board of education, and asked why we didn't get one yet. She informed us of the process to get approval for homeschooling, and tasked us to do that.
Getting Legal Permission to Homeschool
The homeschooling approval process involves many different parts:
- Filling out paperwork with all your children's details
- Writing an educational manifesto of sorts, essentially writing why you want to homeschool. This was tricky to write, since the biggest reasons I homeschool is because I have problems with how schools and especially the local school system work, but I was advised to keep it all positive, to only write the positives of homeschooling without putting down the school system, as that is the jurisdiction of the board of education, the ones who have the power to approve or deny our request to homeschool.
- Writing an educational plan, what we plan on teaching each child and how. As unschoolers, this was also complicated to write, as we don't plan official topics, but learn the things that interest the kids at the time, following their lead. However, having unschooled for 8 years by that point, I was able to see what topics came up regularly, and how they came up, and I included those on the educational plan, since I had no reason to assume it wouldn't be a repeat. I wrote that we were unschoolers and more about how that works scholastically.
- Writing what topics the children have already learned. This was basically a repeat of the last.
(If anyone local who is homeschooling or planning on homeschooling wants to see what I wrote for ideas of what to submit with their paperwork, drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org and I'm happy to send it to you.)
Once all that was submitted, the board of education sends a group of people for a home visit, generally the truant officer, a social worker, and I'm not sure what else, to see your home, meet the kids and the parents, talk about the same things you already wrote about in your paperwork, etc.. For whatever reason, our home visit was only by the truant officer. I transformed our living room into an education center, with educational tablecloths and wall hangings, and had the kids do "schooley" projects and assignments, to put the knowledge and skills that I knew they had onto paper, because someone who is just meeting them for a few minutes can't see what someone who is with them daily could see.
The visit went well, the truant officer complimented us a lot, that she could see how well rounded and good of an education the children were getting, that I was a good teacher, etc... and commented how she can see the kids' grasp of the local language would come up as an issue with the board of education.
A month or so later, we were told to come to a meeting at the board of education, Mike and myself and all the kids. I was warned by homeschooling friends that it wouldn't be a pleasant experience, and boy was I right. It was a committee of about 6 different people, including the head of the board of education in the region, the one in charge of homeschooling, a social worker, a psychologist, the truant officer, and probably more people I'm not remembering.
They were intimidating and nasty, grilling us and the kids, making snide remarks, implying all sorts of bad things. The psychologist especially was a nasty piece of work, and was so hurtful that I lost it and started crying. Even going in knowing how nasty they'd be, I was still shocked.
During the meeting, they were so intimidating that my oldest, Lee, who does know the local language, even if not perfectly, didn't answer them when they asked him questions, and I ended up explaining what they were asking, etc... so they assumed that he didn't speak the language. And Ike, who specifically has an issue with picking up the local language, didn't understand anything at all, and was bouncing around in his seat for the entire 45 minute meeting, not understanding anything. The ignorant and nasty psychologist said (among other things, and not anywhere near this 'pleasantly': "If your kids were in the school system for a year, they should be completely fluent; there must be something wrong with them if they can't speak the language after having been in school with them for a year." And that is completely and utterly ridiculous, as anyone who has experience with kids learning a second language knows that many kids only gain a very basic grasp of a language after being full time in a program with the new language, and aren't completely fluent after just one year. Ike did learn the language during that year and now can communicate effectively in it, has friends that don't speak English, just the local language. Is his level of the local language that of the level of local kids? No. But its good, and its getting better all the time. And as for Ike? We strongly suspected autism at the time, specifically because of the language issues, and that's why he wasn't just picking up the language- there was something objectively wrong...
We didn't get a result from the committee meeting right away. A few weeks later we got a letter with their decision.They approved our request to homeschool (meaning they gave us an exemption from the compulsory education laws) with a few conditions.
It was only for that year. (Usually approval is given two years at a time.)
We had to get teachers to teach them the local language.
And we needed to get both boys a psychodidactic evaluation. Which basically is a test that tests for scholastic problems.
The language instruction? No problem. We were on board with that and could barter for that. We also decided to take a more active role in giving our kids more lessons in the local language at home as a family.
The psychodidactic evaluation sounded ridiculous and unnecessary and we decided to skip that. However, we decided to finally get Ike evaluated, which I thought was really the root of the issue, and why they were requiring the psychodidactic evaluation in the first place, because they noticed that something was "off" with Ike. We got a private evaluation by an English speaking developmental psychologist who gave him a diagnosis of high functioning autism.
After he got his diagnosis we spent the time and effort with more committees to get approval for special education for him, finding a school for kids with high functioning autism like him, and we totally weren't thinking about the whole homeschooling approval thing since we were sending Ike to school.
In September once again we got contacted by the truant officer, telling us that we didn't have approval to homeschool that year unless we did what they said, namely the psychodidactic evaluation. To be honest, that was the furthest thing from my mind because why would we need a psychodidactic evaluation, especially since we were sending Ike to school, we got him diagnosed, and he was the only one with potential learning problems...
But the truant officer said the committee decision said that both boys needed the psychodidactic evaluation, not just Ike, so even though Ike is in school we didn't have permission to homeschool Lee without this evaluation.
I put my foot down and said no, I didn't agree to do that test, there is no reason at all for Lee. But we got threatened that if we don't do the test and don't send to school we're breaking the law.
To be honest, to say I was freaking out was an understatement.
I did not want to do the psychodidactic test for many, many, many reasons.
My Opposition to Mandatory Psychodidactic Testing
In no specific order, because in my opinion, they are all equally strong reasons as to why not:
Cost. It costs $575 to do the test if we do it at a local center connected with the local government. The truant officer said that if we submitted all our financial information and ask for social services' help, we can get a discount and only pay $285 for the test. Even with the discount, that is a lot of money for a test that I see absolutely no reason to do. And I don't feel like divulging all my financial information to social services, because I don't need to give them a reason to get involved in our lives. Maybe they'll decide based on our financial information that they don't think we should be homeschooling. (There is discrimination against poor people in my country, especially vis a vis homeschooling.) And just in general, I don't feel like I should give up my financial information to them, even if it won't harm me in any way. I want certain aspects of my life private and not divulged to government officials that don't need to know it.
Unnecessary. There was no stated reason given anywhere for the kids to take the test, other than "we decided". I can understand possibly why they might have wanted Ike to take the test, because they could see his ADHD just from how he was acting during the committee meeting, but there is no reason whatsoever to even suspect that Lee has any learning issues.
I am not oblivious and ignorant. I am a very aware mom and was aware that Ike had some learning issues and that was why we got him evaluated (we had planned on it beforehand anyhow, it just was a lot of money to shell out at once, and we also didn't want it before getting approval to homeschool because we were worried that a diagnosis would be used as a strike against us and they'd forbid homeschooling) and I am also very aware of Lee's strengths and weaknesses and scholastically, the only "issue" that Lee has is that he's gifted, probably highly gifted. His only other "issue" he has is some very minor sensory issues (mainly about which company's clothes he's willing to wear, and that's it), which doesn't affect him scholastically in any way.
The only "clue" they gave as to why they were requiring this test was because they said during the meeting "it's not normal that a kid would be in school for a year and not speak the local language" (though that wasn't written anywhere on the paper from them regarding their decisions as a result of said meeting), and that is first off, patently untrue- it often takes more than a year in school for a kid to be fluent in a language, and anyhow, Lee does speak the local language, he has friends that don't speak English at all, and he can only communicate with them in the local language and he manages just fine. His level of the language isn't on par with other kids his age, but he actually speaks it relatively well, even if his grammar and vocabulary can use some improvement. So requiring an expensive test for that reason is just ridiculous.
I am assuming that they just saw that Ike had some issues, so they lumped Lee together with him, and are requiring the test for him merely based on their stereotyping and judgmentalness and inability to see two children as separate individuals, and that just because one child requires further testing doesn't mean that they both do. And that is offensive to me in so many ways, not to mention being a very problematic way of dealing with children.
Morally. I strongly am opposed to a government having any say whatsoever about whether someone can homeschool their child or not. I am a strong believer that educating your children how you see fit, and in a way that you think is correct for them, is a basic human right.
I can support a government wanting some basic oversight on the homeschooling process, just to make sure no children fall through the cracks, requiring some basic follow ups to see that a child isn't being ignored or neglected or abused, but actually being educated at home...
The law in this country merely is that a child needs to be educated, not that they have to go to school, and it bothers me on a moral level that I have to go through this whole rigmarole to have permission to do what I believe is best for my children, to even go through all these home visits and committee meetings and getting their permission, and the icing on the cake is them requiring me to pay a lot of money for a test that is not only expensive, but wholly unnecessary, especially after they said during our committee meeting that they have no doubt that our children are being educated well, that they see I'm a fantastic educator.
I feel like this is discrimination against families with lower income, and that families with larger incomes would just do the test and be done with it, but lower income families might feel bullied into sending their kids to school since they can't afford the test.
Even if we could find a way to pay for the test, I don't want to, because I feel that if I do this test against my better judgment, and others do this test, and everyone who has been threatened that they won't be given approval to homeschool without paying a lot for an unnecessary test does it, it will become a standard that everyone who applies for permission to homeschool will be required to do, and I want to fight back how I can. I was told that this actually is against the law to require in order to get approval, I just don't have the money to fight this in court, and I think they know that, which is why they are able to bully people into doing this test.
No Guarantees. I was almost convinced to do this test, despite everything, when I asked some fellow local homeschoolers and I found out that just because someone does this test doesn't mean they'd get approved. So they can pay money they don't have for a test that isn't necessary not to mention morally wrong for them to even be requiring, and even after all that have their request to homeschool be rejected. (I know a family that that happened to.)
So that convinced me. No way, no how am I doing this.
(You don't have to agree with my reasoning. In fact, I know many that completely disagree with me about this. But this still is my reasoning and no one will convince me otherwise.)
Where Things Stand Now Legally
So even after I decided this, that didn't stop the truant officer from being the messenger from the board of education and insisting on requiring these.
I tried to find ways around this, like doctors or teachers or other educators who know my son and know that he doesn't need any special testing to test him, and write a short evaluation of their own, that they see nothing that would make them think that he requires further testing, but they are all scared. They feel for me and want to help me, but since most work for the board of education, they are afraid to do such a thing, because they are afraid of losing their job or otherwise causing them to have tarnished records for standing up to the board of education. So that was a no go.
I tried to find ways to do it cheaper. The board of education will pay for psychodidactic testing in cases where they demand it but the parents don't want to or can't pay for it, and I attempted to see if we could do that, but I was given a firm "No!" and was told that homeschoolers do not get any of this special help, that we could only get the psychodidactic test for free if we sent them to school. Ding ding ding discrimination against homeschoolers. (Forget the fact that in the US, when I grew up in NE Ohio, homeschoolers were given access to a lot of free resources through the local public school since they were also eligible to these things paid for by taxes, such as books and extra curricular activities and therapies, and here homeschoolers get no resources from the public school system. No, this is making special, not to mention unnecessary, requirements for homeschoolers and specifically not allowing them to have the access to the funds that would pay for that same thing...)
I argued with the truant officer on the phone that if they were going to require testing, I at least wanted to have written down, precisely, what was the issue that they thought he had for which they were demanding testing. When I looked into getting testing through the local insurance (they only do the psycho part of the psychodidactic testing anyhow), the doctor wanted to know what to write on the referral, what issue they were finding, and I literally had nothing to tell them... But she said that the committee refused to do that.
It ended up being that every single time the truant officer called, we'd get into an argument, because I thought the demands were 100% unreasonable, and she saw that I was becoming overly emotional about it... which was true. I was getting very upset and she was bothered by that, because as much as she was the one that kept on calling me, she is a nice person who was given the job of conveying the demands of the board of education to me, and was stuck between a rock and a hard place. The one bit of progress we made through our conversations was that the board of education committee backtracked and said that they'd drop the requirement for the psycho part of the test and just require doing the didactic part of the test, which was $400 before the subsidy and $200 if we applied for a needs based subsidy from the local municipality. This is compared to the $575 before subsidy or $285 after the subsidy for the entire psychodidactic test. That's not a huge difference financially, but at least somewhat.
Eventually, my husband and the truant officer spoke instead of me talking to her, and he was level headed enough to come to an agreement with her.
He made conditions with her that we'd do the test if:
1) We got their agreement that they'd approve our homeschooling request no matter what the results of the didactic test.
2) We got the needs based discount for the test without needing to divulge all our financial information.
3) They got Lee a tester in English, since, although he does speak the local language, his English is much better, and a test evaluating his learning abilities wouldn't show his true abilities (or lack thereof) unless it was being done in his mother tongue.
The truant officer agreed with my husband's reasoning, and said she didn't know of any local tester who'd do the didactic test in English that would be covered by the subsidy, and she'd get back to us when she does... If she does. I don't think she'll find one.
So that's where we're at now. We're at an impasse of sorts. We compromised, they compromised, and until they find the means to give us what we are requiring to fill their demands, we're kind of in a limbo "not legally approved homeschooling, but not being harassed by the ministry of education for not sending to school" state.
I was a bit afraid to write such a post, because what if by posting this I'd cause ourselves further trouble, but I felt the need to share it anyhow, because I don't want to live my life in fear of the government. And I want people to know the truth about what homeschooling legalities and bureaucracy are really like locally.
And as for Ike? He's been in school since September and he's really been loving it. At first, he was really reluctant to go, and I offered to bribe him, to pay him allowance if he goes to school, and after the first week, he told me "Mommy, I don't think it is right for you to be giving mean allowance for my going to school, because I really like school!" Score!
Ike has 6 or 7 kids in his class, one main teacher and two full time teacher's aides, plus a bunch of therapists and a bunch of special subject teachers. Altogether he has about 12 teachers, and the high teacher to student ratio allows him to get individual help, on his level. One of my biggest issues with schooling in general and the schooling in this country specifically is that the student teacher ratio is really high (locally often 35-40 kids with one teacher and 1 aide) which makes it really difficult for a kid to be taught individually, on their level, allowing them to have more help where they're struggling and go faster in areas where they excel. Because of my son's school structure, he gets so much one on one time with teachers, many private lessons specifically catering to his strengths and weaknesses and it is truly allowing him to thrive.
The main reason we sent him to school was to help him learn the local language- he didn't understand it, speak it, know many of the letters of the alphabet even, let alone read or write it... at 7 years old. It has been 2 months since the school year started, and he has progressed so much!
Every day he's coming home with more and more words that he knows, and the other day I saw he knew some words that Lee didn't. Ike started gloating to Lee that he knows some words that Lee doesn't, and when Lee started to get upset, I reminded him in the local language "Ike doesn't speak so much of the local language, so when he feels good about himself that he finally knows something that you don't, just let him, don't get upset" and Lee understood. And so did Ike! He was able to translate the gist of what I was saying, even if not understand it word for word. Laughingly, he told me "Mommy, if you want to be able to have a language in which you can say secrets around me, so I won't understand, you'll have to learn a new language, since I understand this one."
And yesterday, Ike's teacher called me up to rave to me about how amazing his progress is in such a short amount of time, that at first she'd give him a summary before each lesson, what they were talking about, so he'd be able to follow along even if he didn't understand it, but she said she doesn't need to do that anymore since he understands what's going on, even without her translating. And Ike confirmed that for me. And she also told me that he's reading full basic sentences in the local language!!!
There's also another English speaker in his class that just moved here, and Ike is helping him learn the local language, and the teacher told me yesterday that Ike told her "That kid is probably afraid to learn the local language because he thinks it is hard, like I used to think, but now I see that its easy and fun!"
Honestly, I was so worried about Ike and what it would be like if he didn't learn the local language, was so worried he just wouldn't be able to, no matter what, and just seeing how he's blossoming at this school, in such a short amount of time, confirms for me that sending him to the school was 1000% the right decision.
As for the other kids... if all schools, even not special ed, worked like Ike's school does, I'd have much less reason to homeschool. Lee has asked me why all schools aren't like Ike's... and the answer simply is budget. Most kids would really thrive in a school structured like his, but only special ed is, unfortunately, largely for budgetary reasons. Does Lee want to go to school? Only if he could go to a school like Ike's, not a regular one. He's half jokingly said that he wishes he has high functioning autism, so he could go to Ike's school... But other than that, he wants to continue homeschooling, and I do too. For him.
I do plan on sending my girls to school next school year, when Anneliese is 5 and Rose 3, for a year, to learn the local language, just as I sent my boys to school at 6 and 4 for the same reason. (From age 3 there is public schooling available locally, and I'd want to send both girls the same year, which is why next year, and not this.) Anneliese and Rose already speak some basic things in the local language, so I'm hoping it'll go even more easily for them than it went for the boys.
I am strongly suspecting that Rose might have high functioning autism like Ike does, and I am starting the process to get her evaluated, and am feeling the rush to do so as soon as possible, because if she could get into a special autism class like Ike does, it would be amazing for her...
Overall, while I've had ups and downs and lots of overhauls regarding my children's education, I am very happy with how things are now, and the plans for the upcoming school year, and that I've found things that work for each child, so I can help them thrive.
If anyone plans on commenting about why homeschooling is bad for kids socially or academically, asking me why I homeschool, what unschooling is, how we homeschool, etc... feel free to first read through all the homeschooling posts here first, where I probably already answered your questions.
- Why Homeschool?
- What Is Unschooling?
- More on Unschooling
- Homeschooling and Social and Emotional Wellbeing
- Homeschooling Again After Schooling
Those of you who homeschool, what is the process for getting approval to homeschool in your area? Any of you flip flop between homeschooling and schooling from year to year, depending on the child and their needs that specific year?
Any of you with kids in special ed? How is that working for you? Are you as happy with your special ed program as I am with my son's?