The Benevolent Bureaucrat Theory

By Howard Richman


[from Issue 80 of the PA HOMESCHOOLERStm newsletter]

The proponents of HB 2560 appear to have developed a new theory, "The Theory of the Benevolent Bureaucrat." That could explain why they argue so persistently that the following passage in this bill will only affect the bad things that school districts do, not the good things:

b) Nothing in this section shall be construed to grant by implication or otherwise to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or any of its officers, agencies or subdivisions any right or authority to control, manage, approve, supervise or make any suggestion, rule, standard, regulation, policy, procedure or requirement as to the control, management or supervision of a home education program.

These bill proponents argue that after this passage of this bill knocks out the current policies, the Department of Education would find some way to reinstate its policy recognizing homeschool organization diplomas and that school districts would find some way to reinstate their policies permitting school sports participation.

Those of us who have actually had to fight for these policies through years of active and patient effort (click here, for example, to read how the policy recognizing homeschool diploma organizations came about), understand fully well that we are not dealing with benevolent bureaucrats who will seek to overcome the new hurdles imposed by the law. We are dealing with tired and overworked people who we had to corner to get them to do what they have done. We understand that these bureaucrats will be very pleased to tell us, if this bill were to pass, "I'm sorry, you know we would like to help, but this new law prevents us from doing anything."

Ironically, these same proponents who appear to believe in the "Theory of the Benevolent Bureaucrat" when it comes to diploma recognition and school sports have a completely different theory about the power of the bill's language when it comes to the bad things that school superintendents do. They believe that this language will prevent the school districts from investigating complaints from nosy neighbors or concerned family members: "Johnny is on the street during school hours and isn't receiving an education." They believe that in that case the superintendent will say, "I'm sorry, you know I would like to investigate, but this new law prevents me from doing anything." Actually, what the superintendents will do is use the remaining tool they have -- and they have a doozy. They will go to family court where they will charge the family with "neglect," a form of child abuse. The family will no longer just be fighting for the right to homeschool, they will be fighting for custody of their own children. If you don't believe me, look at how complaints are investigated in those states that don't have requirements and protections written into their laws.

The due process procedures of the current law tell the superintendents what they need to do to investigate a complaint against a homeschooling family -- first the superintendent requests additional documentation, then there is a due process hearing with an impartial hearing officer to hear whether education is taking place. At the hearing, the family's evaluator, a professional educator, can testify, based not only upon the portfolio but also upon his or her interview with the child, that education is indeed taking place. If the family were to lose, the penalty at the end of the process is either a remedial program or having to put their child in school for one year -- not losing custody of their child. Those who would throw out the "baby with the bathwater" should think twice before they discard these important due process protections.


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