Why I’m Sticking with Paper

August 15th is quickly approaching, so in accordance with the DC Homeschooling regulations I submitted my “Notice of Intent to Home School” form today to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, otherwise known as OSSE. I was rather surprised when I almost immediately got a reply from the program analyst in their office who oversees homeschooling. She said she would be happy to accept my form, but she wondered if I might rather submit the form online instead. Hey, I’m no troglodyte! I’m all for government innovation and efficiency. So I figured I should take a look at the online form to see if it really was better than submitting a paper copy.

Sadly, from the start I was rather concerned. The initial registration page for the site requires you to check a box that says, “By checking this box I agree to the terms of the DCMR 5200 Homeschooling Regulations.” That seems innocent enough, but I find it interesting that I was never asked to check a box that says that I agree to the terms of the District’s codes against murder, yet I can’t go out and kill someone. I didn’t ever check a box that said that I agree to the terms of the District’s rules of the road, but I still got warned the other day when I didn’t come to a complete stop at a stop sign. The point is that no one should be expected to “agree to the terms” of a legitimate law. We are all held to a legal standard whether we agree to it or not. However, it is possible that I may need to assert some day that I believe a particular law or regulation to be invalid. If that is the case I wouldn’t want to have already asserted that I “agreed to the terms” of that invalid law. Strike one against the online form.

Strike two came when the form asked what my “reasons for homeschooling” were. There is an assumption inherent in that question. The assumption is that being in public school is the typical, accepted, natural, and proper place for children to get an education. The only reason someone would teach their child any other way is because something must have been wrong with the default option. Of course this isn’t true. To be fair, I tested the form and you aren’t required to submit any answer at all. There is no red asterisk next to the question like there is for most of the other questions. On the other hand it doesn’t specify anywhere that the question is optional nor does it say something like, “The Office of the State Superintendent of Education finds it helpful to understand the education choices of parents in the District. Accordingly we request that all of our parents voluntarily fill out a few survey questions to help us better understand the educational landscape in the District.” I could live with the question if it were phrased that way. As it is, it looks like the question is required of all homeschoolers and it is invasive and unnecessary.

The form lists seven answers to the “reasons” question, plus an option for “Other.” Not surprisingly most of the answers indicate that you have a problem with the default, appropriate choice of rational parents — putting your children in public schools. So perhaps you fear bullying or you are not satisfied with the school’s curriculum. The point is that there isn’t an option that says, “Homeschooling is a superior choice for my child.”

The third strike against the form is a bit more picky, but again, it shows the government reaching for more information than they need. DC homeschool regulations require that homeschoolers have a high school diploma or that they request a waiver of this requirement. The online form should state, “Please upload a copy of a diploma indicating that the parent has a high school degree or greater.” Instead the form specifically requests the parent’s “highest educational achievement” — information not required by the law. We have always submitted my wife’s high school diploma as the minimum required by law. Yes, we have both earned a college diploma or higher, but the law doesn’t require that information.

So there were the three strikes against this new online form that convinced me that I should just turn in the paper form instead. But what bothered me even more was that no one asked for our community’s input when developing this online form. I understand that OSSE can’t view any specific organization as “the voice” of homeschooling in the District, but I also know that they have repeatedly run into problems that could have been avoided by trying to involve the homeschool community first. I know that OSSE can easily contact me, and they know that I can contact others. This could have been avoided with an easy attempt at communication.

So for the 2015-2016 school year OSSE has a scanned copy of the paper form “Notice of Intent to Home School” that lists the names of my three children who will be homeschooling this year. The form is still available on OSSE’s site. I would encourage other DC homeschoolers to follow the same practice. Perhaps next year the online version will be more appropriate.

Remember, forms are due in by August 15th.