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Truancy and Home Schooling

The popularity of home schooling has increased dramatically between 1997 and 2002, and the Department of Education estimates that between 700,000 and two million children were home schooled during the 1999–2000 academic year. This fact has a large impact on the enforcement of truancy laws, as home schooled children may be out in public during school hours and could be apprehended by police. In many states, the right to home school children is protected by the state’s constitution. For example, the constitution of the state of Oklahoma reads:

The Legislature shall provide for the compulsory attendance at some public or other school, unless other means of education are provided, of all the children in the State who are sound in mind and body, between the ages of eight and 16 years, for at least three months in each year. (Article XIII)

Many states, like Oklahoma, have not yet resolved how home schooling affects the enforcement of truancy laws. For example, in Illinois, there are currently no provisions for home schooled children under the law, and these children would be in violation of the state’s truancy laws if those laws were enforced. The only exceptions to the truancy laws, that is, those circumstances in which school-aged individuals are not required to attend a public school in Illinois are: those attending private or parochial schools, those who are physically or mentally unable to attend school, those females who are pregnant or have young children, those who are lawfully employed, and those individuals who are absent for religious holidays.

The regulation of home schooling thus varies greatly by state. Some states have very little regulation and do not require parents to contact the state to inform officials that children will be home schooled. Some of these states are Arkansas, Indiana, Illinois, Oklahoma, Michigan, Missouri, and New Jersey. Other states, such as California, Arizona, New Mexico, Alabama, and Kentucky, have low regulation and require that parents who are home schooling their children report this fact to the state. Other states, such as Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Colorado, Oregon, Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana, have moderate regulation in which parents must report test scores and student evaluations to the state. Some states, such as New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maine, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Washington, and Utah, require parents to submit test scores and evaluations of students and also professional evaluations of teachers and curriculum for approval. The level of regulation in each state affects how truancy laws can be enforced. If the state has no record of students being home schooled, it is difficult to enforce truancy laws across the board.

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