Homeschooling under threat in NJ

The classroom and the government
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If a certain New Jersey State Senator has her way, New Jersey will go at once from the easiest State for homeschooling to the hardest.

State Senator Loretta Weinberg (D-37-Bergen Co.) introduced S-3105, a bill to require annual medical examination of home-schooled pupils, on November 21. On the evening of November 28, Americans for Liberty, a Tea Party-affiliated group in northern Morris County, New Jersey, forwarded an alert to subscribers from the Home School Legal Defense Association.

Details of the homeschooling bill

Loretta Weinberg of New Jersey, a long-standing foe of homeschooling

NJ State Senator Loretta Weinberg, in her days at the College of New Jersey. Her extension of her right hand, with the middle finger slightly up-raised, might or might not be significant. Credit: User Bbsrock/Wikiedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported License

The Weinberg bill orders all parents and guardians of homeschooling pupils to file at least three documents with the superintendent of the school district in which they live:

  1. A “portfolio of records and materials,” essentially a curriculum, textbook list, samples of textbooks and workbooks, proposed tests, and other materials on the “Three Rs” (reading, writing, and arithmetic). This is due by June 30.
  2. A letter informing the district of the intent for homeschooling. This must set forth each child’s name and birth date, plus the name of each homeschooling instructor. Due date: August 1.
  3. A “document” showing that the child has seen a doctor since last year. Due date: September 30.

Furthermore, no child having a case open with the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) may home-school, unless DYFS allows it.

Problems with the homeschooling bill

The problem, according to HSLDA, is that the portfolio includes without limitation the materials that the bill describes. Furthermore, the bill would give the New Jersey Board of Education unlimited power to regulate homeschooling, power that it does not have under current law.

S3105 reads in part:

The State Board of Education shall promulgate rules and regulations pursuant to the “Administrative Procedure Act,” P.L.1968, c.410 (C.52:14B-1 et seq.), which are necessary to effectuate the provisions of sections 1 and 2 of this act.

HSLDA interprets that this way:

It [the Board] could define homeschooling itself. There is virtually no limit as to what the Board could require in the annual medical exam. No issue – no matter how personal, sensitive, unwelcome or intrusive – would be off limits.

The bill would also be an administrative nightmare, and yet another taxpayer boondoggle in a State well-known for bureaucratic waste:

With three filings every year for 42,000 homeschooled children, overworked public school staff would have yet more burdens added to their shoulders. Taxpayers would pay the cost of filing, processing, checking, responding to, and storing 120,000 sets of paperwork each year. Taxes will inevitably go up to pay for it.

A tragic foil

HSLDA and Americans for Liberty believe that this bill is Loretta Weinberg’s answer to a tragic child-abuse case. On or before May 22, authorities found Christiana Glenn, age 8, dead in her parents’ home in Irvington, NJ. The Essex County Medical Examiner listed the causes of death as malnutrition and complications from a broken leg. Senator Weinberg and her colleagues made much of the Glenns’ decision to home-school their daughter and two other children. (See these four reports in The Star-Ledger of Newark, plus this Letter-to-the-Editor criticizing Weinberg for making too much of the homeschooling angle.)

This is a classic example of making law in response to a tragic case, without regard to its consequences. (Or perhaps Senator Weinberg knows perfectly well what the consequences will be, because she does not want any children to home-school at all. Her record of casting suspicion on homeschooling goes back at least seven years, to before she entered the Senate. Furthermore, the animosity between Weinberg and the homeschooling population is mutual and of long standing.)

The Star-Ledger did not run an editorial on the Glenn case. But in article after article, the S-L‘s reporters blamed DYFS, not the homeschooling concept, for Christiana Glenn’s death. At issue: an anonymous tipster telephoned DYFS to describe a suspicious circumstance. The DYFS operator, by her own admission, “blew off” the call. No one regrets that choice more than she, in light of the child’s death.

HSLDA and AfL accuse Weinberg of seeking to punish parents because DYFS failed to catch a case of child abuse before a child died. But CNAV sees another motive. Rahm Emmanuel, former White House Chief of Staff and now Mayor of Chicago, IL, famously said:

Never let a good crisis go to waste.

Loretta Weinberg seems to have that maxim down pat.

The bill would not make children any safer

The Weinberg bill will not make children any safer. First, even an annual physical examination would give a child only one point-of-contact per year by a responsible, non-related adult. Second, even children in public or accredited private schools have contact with responsible, non-related adults only nine months out of the year. (Will Weinberg next push to abolish summer vacation? Stay tuned.) Third, as letter writer Sue Ferrara pointed out, this bill would do nothing about “latchkey kids,” who typically come home after school to an empty house or apartment because both parents are away at work. At least a homeschooling pupil will have a responsible adult with him or her all day long.

HSLDA and AfL gave the names, addresses, and office telephone numbers of several responsible Senators. They include:

  • Senator Stephen Sweeney (D-3-Gloucester), President of the Senate
  • Senator Theresa Ruiz (D-Essex), Chair, Committee on Education
  • Senators Jim Whelan, Thomas Kean, Diane Allen, and Shirley Turner, other members of the Education Committee

See also this blog entry containing another copy of the HSLDA alert.