On April 13, 1985, six homeschooling leaders from across Pennsylvania met in Quakertown, and other homeschooling leaders sent letters to be read at the meeting. That day we started a coalition called Parent Educators of Pennsylvania so that we could coordinate our legislative effort.
It was a time when Pennsylvania was starting to prosecute more and more homeschoolers. We soon had the dubious distinction of having more homeschoolers in court (about 50) than any other state. The public school establishment was trying to put a lid on the tiny homeschool movement (about 500 families in PA at the beginning of our legislative effort). The first decision we had to make was the goal of our legislative effort. Here is part of the description of the discussion at the meeting from page 13, Story of a Bill, a book that I wrote about the legislative effort. Tom Eldredge and I forged a close working relationship at that meeting. Here is part of the discussion which occurred:
"If we try to abolish the compulsory school law," I argued, "we'll never get anywhere. It would take decades at least. What we need to do is put a provision in the law that will allow people to homeschool."
"But, someone argued, "the compulsory school law is by its very nature an unconstitutional infringement on freedom."
Tom supported my position, "The way you change things is gradually," he said. "In America today, we have allowed school superintendents to make our decisions for so long that we can't simply walk up to them and say, "Hey, this is my responsibility - you don't have a right to say yes or no!"
"Once homeschooling is legal," I put in, "people will begin to see that parents can be trusted to control their children's education."
Four years later we got a law through which ended the prosecutions of homeschoolers in Pennsylvania. The basic format of our law is that homeschoolers file an affidavit with their school district at the beginning of the school year and keep documentation during the year. During 3rd, 5th, and 8th grades they have their children tested in reading and math. At the end of the year they get their child evaluated by a teacher, former-teacher, or psychologist (many evaluators are homeschooling parents who used to teach school). The evaluator then writes an evaluation certifying that the child is receiving an appropriate education. At the end of the school year the parents turn in their documentation to the local school superintendent who photocopies whatever he wishes to keep for his records (usually just the evaluation letter and the test scores). Our home education law (Act 169 of 1988) is explained in our Guide to PA Homeschool Law.
In general superintendents are only interested in making sure that parents have turned in all of the documentation. If the parents have had their children tested (when required) and have had their child evaluated by someone who is qualified, then the superintendents rarely give the family any problems.
One of the few exceptions to this rule was the Pittsburgh School District under Superintendent Wallace. He violated the Deely family's Civil Rights when he tried to prevent them from homeschooling in a case called Deely v. Wallace and he ended up having to pay them $5,000 of his own money in an out-of-court settlement.
As I wrote in the last chapter of Story of A Bill:
Over the four and a half years of our legislative effort, I have been amazed at the number of seemingly accidental events that have contributed to its success. It is hard not to see the guiding hand of God. If He had just helped us work together, and not passed a bill that would protect homeschooling families, dayenu! [Dayenu is the Hebrew word meaning "It would have been sufficient."]
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