A number of homeschool parents in Florida have been ordered by a public school district to register their children in classes within three days or face “criminal prosecution” under state law.
A meeting within the next week likely will determine whether school officials will face a lawsuit in response to the threat.
The issue is being addressed by the Home School Legal Defense Association, which said its members in the Santa Rosa County School District received letters demanding information that parents are not required to provide under state law.
The information included Social Security number, race and grade level.
The parents also received a letter demanding they comply with a new district policy requiring them to show proof of residency and to prove they no longer were registered in whatever district they most recently had been under.
HSLDA said its staff attorney, TJ Schmidt, wrote to Terri Moore, who was secretary in what used to be called the Alternative Academics and Continuous Improvement Department, as well as Santa Rosa Supt. Tim Wyrosdick “pointing out that Florida law does not require proof of residency or any of the additional information that the district requested.”
A weeks-long silence by the district suggested to HSLDA that the policy had been changed to comply with state law.
“How wrong we were,” HSLDA said.
The homeschooling families now were receiving “termination” letters from Moore, who had moved on to become a secretary to Laura Austin, principal of the Santa Rosa Blended Academy/Home Education Department.
The parents were bluntly told the district was “terminating your request to file your intent to home school in Santa Rosa County School District.”
The letter said, according to HSLDA, each family had three days “to register your student in public or private school.”
“Failure of a parent or guardian to enroll a student in an attendance option after termination of a home education program shall constitute non-compliance with the compulsory attendance requirement and may result in criminal prosecution of the parent under Section 1003.27(2), F.S.”
Schmidt reached out immediately to the district and was given the contact for the schools’ lawyer, who responded to a message the next day.
The lawyer encouraged HSLDA to take the case to court, declining to discuss the problem except to say other school districts were doing the same thing, HSLDA said.
“He refused to accept that the Florida Department of Education denies local school districts authority to add to the home education law or listen to the fact that HSLDA has opposed all other districts’ attempts at similar requirements. Some of these other situations have been resolved, and some are still being worked out,” HSLDA said.
When HSLDA asked Wyrosdick to have the item placed on the agenda for the next school board meeting, Nov. 17, he refused, HSLDA said.
Working with a local lawyer, HSLDA convinced the district to “put any action against these families on hold.” Now, Schmidt and Santa Rosa lawyer Stephen Pitre plan to be at the board meeting Nov. 17.
“We are also asking all homeschooling families in Santa Rosa to come to the meeting. We expect a large turnout,” HSLDA said. “Lord willing, the result will be similar to the outcome in Alachua County earlier this year.”
In Alachua County, the district dropped a number of demands and created a committee of homeschooling parents to advise on district policy, HSLDA said.
WND was unable to get an answer at the school district Wednesday afternoon, and a message left at the home of a school board member was not returned.
HSLDA said it was evaluating the need for litigation in the dispute.