To Prince William's community of home-schoolers, the county school system's regulation seemed to contradict state law. It required that if parents wanted to remove their children for home schooling after the beginning of the academic year, they first had to submit their curriculum plan to the school system and await approval.
Home-schoolers lobbied School Board members for months, citing an excerpt from the state code that says parents can notify a school division's superintendent "as soon as practicable" about their intentions and can take as long as 30 days after withdrawing their child to file their curriculum plan.
Last week, the School Board scrapped Prince William's "approval before removal" clause, a decision signifying the increasing influence home-school parents are enjoying now compared with the resistance they faced from previous boards and school system staff members.
"Prince William has had a 20-year history of being punitive toward home-schoolers. We feel like this board is very responsive to the community," said Shay Seaborne of Woodbridge, founder of the local home-school group Family Oriented Learning Cooperative (FOLC). "We've built a bridge of respect and understanding."
The last major victory for home-schoolers came almost a year ago. School Board members voted unanimously to allow home-schoolers and private school students to enroll in up to two credit-earning courses in public schools. Only a small number of home-schoolers enroll in the school system, but that isn't the point, parents say. As taxpayers, they said, they feel they deserve the same access as public school families.
In passing the new regulation that allows parents to remove their children instantly so they don't have to wait for anyone's permission, School Board members said that wanted to uphold the rights and respect of families who seek nontraditional routes.
"If there is any single group that has benefited since Jan. 1, 2004, it's been home-schoolers," School Board member Grant Lattin (Occoquan) said. "Many of the people who are new to the board ran to ensure that parents are given as much latitude as possible in school choice. The previous board did not support home-schoolers. But we underestimated how sensitive this was to home-schoolers. Parents were offended that they had to jump through hoops."
Seaborne said the county's previous regulation set up conflicts at individual schools, when parents would want to remove their children based on the state law but officials at individual schools would not permit them, citing the county rule.
"In a recent case, a mother had her daughter in a kindergarten special needs program, and the mom discovered that the teacher was abusive," Seaborne said. "She notified the principal she wanted to remove the child, and he said she had no legal right to do it."
The majority of home-school parents pull their children out of school in the middle of the year because they realize the fit is simply no good, she said.
Their reasons include "the bad social scene, a problem with the teacher, or bullying," Seaborne said.
Board members said they will scrutinize the new regulation again later this summer or early fall, after the incoming school superintendent Steven L. Waltz has arrived and settled.
"We are going to take a look into some of the details of how the regulation would be implemented," board member Milton C. Johns (Brentsville) said, adding that it was unclear yet what precisely would be examined until there were more discussions with the board's attorney, who has been on vacation.