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Problems With Local School Officials & Declaration of Intent Forms - Current Issues in Georgia - News & Commentary - HEIR of Georgia
Current Issues in Georgia : Problems With Local School Officials & Declaration of Intent Forms
on 2006/8/7 21:50:00 (15839 reads)

Unfortunately, each year many local school districts overstep their authority and demand more than Georgia home study law requires with regard to Declarations of Intent...

HEIR has been hearing from sources around the state that this problem is cropping up in a variety of ways, perhaps worse than in previous years. In some counties, home educators who have submitted Declarations of Intent that merely comply with the law have seen the Superintendent's office refuse to “accept” them. We hope that a Superintendent doesn't refuse to complete a Certificate of Attendance for a student's driver's license just because a parent didn't over comply with law.

Here are the facts as HEIR is aware of them, and some approaches you can consider if/when this problem affects you. Please share this information with other home educators, especially newer homeschoolers who may not be familiar with this issue.

Forms and the Law

The Georgia Department of Education changed their Declaration of Intent form sometime in the spring or summer of 2006, substituting birthdates in place of children's ages. Many districts have apparently modified their own forms to follow suit. Some have added other extraneous information demands as well. Sometimes they are clearly marked as optional; sometimes it is implied or asserted in the instructions that the additional information is mandatory. The GA DOE form, for example, asks for special education status, phone number, notice of change of address, and commitment to give notice of discontinuing a home study program. Most of the extraneous requests now on the GA DOE form originally began appearing on local forms first. Reports have also come in to HEIR about districts asking for copies of parents' high school diplomas or copies of driver's licenses, among other things.

The law has not changed.
(See 20-2-690 O.C.G.A.)

The sections in question are 20-2-690(c)(2), which states:
"(2) The declaration shall include a list of the names and ages of the students who are enrolled in the home study program, the address where the home study program is located, and a statement of the 12 month period that is to be considered the school year for that home study program."

and 20-2-690(e), which states:
"(e) The State Board of Education shall devise, adopt, and make available to local school superintendents, who shall in turn make available to administrators of private schools and parents or guardians with children in home study programs, such printed forms and procedures as may be reasonably necessary to carry out efficiently the reporting provisions of this Code section, but such printed forms and procedures shall not be inconsistent with or exceed the requirements of this Code section."

The law makes very clear that any information beyond names, ages, street address, and dates of your 12-month school year is not required. In fact, school districts are specifically forbidden to require it on the DOI. (Giving a P.O. Box number does not comply with the law, unless your home study program is located in one...)

Why Do They Think They Need That?

The information they are seeking is sometimes related to their legitimate attempts to satisfy the reporting requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation, and the state drop-out/drivers license legislation. However, we find that the legally required information for the DOI is already adequate for their reporting needs. Easy solutions to these two problems are detailed in Cathy Carter's excellent letter to the DeKalb County School District. Read it and see how you can help your district understand how to deal with these particular issues while staying within the bounds of the homeschool law.

In the case of drivers license attendance certification, the district does not need the birth date of the student in advance, because students and their parents can verify birth dates personally at the time that they go to pick up the attendance certificate. (Applicants must prove birth date when applying for the driver's license anyway.)

In the case of the federal requirements, the federal government requires each district to report (among other things) the grade levels of all public, private, and home educated students. Since homeschoolers don't necessarily use grade levels, districts have to estimate by age to assign grade levels to homeschoolers, and they can easily do that using ages given on the DOI; birth dates are not necessary.

If the Superintendent refuses to “accept” a legal Declaration of Intent, how might this affect my students?

We are not lawyers, but as far as we can see the law does not anywhere grant a superintendent the authority to reject anyone's Declaration of Intent. Our layman's opinion is that if you turn in a legible DOI in any format, on time, with the proper information, you have done what is required. You are not out of compliance just because the Superintendent refuses to receive or even “rejects” your declaration or attendance reports.

But, you should realize that, by simply doing nothing, a Superintendent can impede students of home study programs from obtaining an instructional drivers permit or intermediate drivers license. One condition under which a person under 18 years of age may obtain a driver's permit or license is to be “enrolled in a home education (sic) program that satisfies the reporting requirements of all state laws governing such program.” (GA code) By regulation, the Department of Driver Services (DDS) will not issue an instructional driver's permit or a driver's license to a home study student unless he has a completed DDS Certificate of Attendance from the local Superintendent of public schools. A superintendent, who refuses to accept a declaration of intent that merely complies with law, also may rationalize that he is justified in not completing the DDS Certificate of Attendance.

What Can I Do?

There are at least two major considerations in dealing with your district when they request/demand extra information, or when they refuse to accept any legible form with the proper information. The first consideration is protecting your rights. We suggest that getting some sort of confirmation of delivery (such as Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested) is an excellent idea, inasmuch as things do sometimes get lost or misfiled, and you should certainly keep copies of everything you deliver to them. By doing this you fulfill your legal responsibility, and you also have evidence to substantiate that you delivered something.

Be sure to keep any written response from the Superintendent regarding your DOI submittal. It is an acknowledgement that you have submitted a DOI. If the Superintendent has objected only to missing information that was NOT required by law, then, implicitly, it is an acknowledgement that what you submitted was compliant with law.

The second consideration is influencing the bureaucracy to do the right thing. We believe neither home educating parents nor government officials should have a problem with following the requirements of the current law.

If a district refuses to accept a form which doesn't provide them extra information, or a form that isn't "theirs", you can politely (antagonizing them won't help) call, write, and/or visit them, informing them of the requirements of the law, and of the clear limit the law places upon what information may be demanded. You can politely ask them to explain what part of the law requires them to approve your declaration to utilize a home study program. Of course, the point is that the declaration is not an Application for Permission to Homeschool; it is a Declaration of Intent! Be persistent in resubmitting your legal DOI, and include with it a copy of the GA law printed from the state website listed above, with the pertinent parts highlighted. Stand your ground, always politely, with a good attitude that will help keep them from becoming defensive. Know the law, and help them see how to do the right thing.

Are There Solutions?

Last year HEIR pursued meeting with several of the State Superintendent's assistants to discuss how the DOE could lead efforts to help local school systems by promoting legal forms and publicizing the simple solutions to their reporting concerns. Unfortunately, our efforts were fruitless. The situation is very convoluted and difficult to unravel on the bureaucratic level. We hope to formulate a long-term "game plan" for maximum effectiveness in addressing these problems. However, an immediate complicating factor is that legislative offices as well as the State Superintendent's office are all up for grabs during the current election season. It will be difficult to work out a lasting solution right now, given that no one knows who will be included in the next set of elected officials, including State Superintendent. And legislative solutions are often problematic. After all, the problems right now are caused by government officials' failure to follow the existing law, and by the confusion that the mandates of No Child Left Behind have created.

Meanwhile, we hope that everyone will work as amicably as possible with their districts without feeling compelled to give in to requests/demands to provide information beyond what the law requires. It is undoubtedly a hassle to deal with these situations, but we believe it is vitally important to individually and collectively insist that our government officials follow the law. If we get used to giving additional, extralegal information, we may very possibly live to regret the precedent set by such supposedly benign "cooperation".

Working Together

For those who are interested, more discussion about these issues will surely be forthcoming on HEIR's discussion loop, HeirTalk. (Click here to join any of HEIR's e-mail loops.)

If you are working through any of these problems with your local district, please report your results on HeirTalk, for the benefit of all. If your DOI has been rejected despite being compliant with the law, or if your child has been denied a driver's license because of poor record keeping by the district or because a report was delivered late, we'd like to know about it. Obviously, these acts are not in the spirit of the law. If your student has been denied a DDS Certificate of Attendance due to rejection of a valid DOI, we'd like to know that. If you have attempted to appeal a driver's license denial with the GA Department of Driver's Services, we'd also like to know about that.

We can't promise you will receive a response (we are not a legal team!), but gathering information about these problems will help us understand the statewide situation. Thank you for your help!

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