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Last modified: Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Ruling could restrict home-schooled students

IU researcher studying home schooling nationwide says Indiana court decision could have 'unfortunate' result

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 9, 2007

Robert Kunzman

Print-Quality Photo

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A state appeals court ruling that leaves discretion to individual districts regarding part-time students could have a negative impact on home-schooled students, according to Robert Kunzman, a professor of curriculum and instruction in the Indiana University School of Education. Kunzman also said that last week's Indiana Court of Appeals decision reflects the policies of many states around the nation.

The court decided in favor of the Brownsburg School Corporation in the corporation's challenge to the Indiana Department of Education. The DOE had maintained every public school corporation must admit any student who requests "dual enrollment," such as a home-schooled student requesting to take classes part-time in the public school. The presiding judge wrote, however, that an Indiana school has "the authority to regulate and control the enrollment of students in its course offerings under its policy."

The state can appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court before June 1.

Kunzman is in the middle of a multi-year research project exploring home-schooling practices and philosophies across the U.S. He said the decision didn't "slam the door shut on anybody," but did allow the option for school corporations to close out home-school students who want to participate in extracurricular activities or specialized classes that are hard to conduct at home.

And, it is possible for a local school to adopt a policy of admitting no part-time student in any circumstance.

"In that regard," Kunzman said, "I think it's unfortunate if that's the route they choose to go."

Instead, Kunzman recommends that corporations adopt certain requirements for part-time participation.

"I don't think it should just be a free-for-all," he said, "but I don't think that most homeschoolers would expect that anyway."

The number of home-schooled students in the state has grown exponentially in recent years. In 1984-85, the state Department of Education reported 143 enrolled home-school students. This year the state reports that there are nearly 36,000, although Kunzman said there are probably many more -- the majority of homeschoolers he speaks with do not enroll with the state.

The fact so few may actually enroll with the state reflects yet another complicating factor.

"Some homeschoolers are quite leery of advocating for greater access to public schools," Kunzman said, "because of the accompanying regulation and expectations that will inevitably follow."

Kunzman notes that reasonable arguments can be made on either side of the issue. While acknowledging the logistical challenges that part-time, home-schooler enrollment can pose for schools, Kunzman said parents of home-schooled students support public schools with their taxes and can make a reasonable point for access.

In addition, he believes this access holds potential benefits beyond academics.

"I think that it provides a way to give them the opportunity to interact with a broader segment of society in public schools," Kunzman said. "Not to say that they necessarily don't have that opportunity in other ways, but it's certainly one opportunity."

He added that good communication between parents and local school corporations is key for resolving individual cases.

The following mp3 audio soundbites are available for download on the School of Education Web site at http://education.indiana.edu/audio.html.

Kunzman hopes most school corporations won't forbid part-time students as an overall policy:

"In that regard, I think it's unfortunate if that's the route they choose to go as a complete, full-out policy. I do think that -- and this is the case in many states that leave it up to the discretion of the district or have a state law allowing it -- there are requirements associated with it, just as there are for extracurricular involvement, and that's an option. So I don't think it should just be a free-for-all, but I don't think that most homeschoolers would expect that anyway."

Kunzman says there is a benefit for home-school students having access to some public school activities:

"I do think that when it can be arranged, it is a good opportunity for home-school kids. And I think that it provides a way to give them the opportunity to interact with a broader segment of society in public schools -- not to say that they necessarily don't have that opportunity in other ways, but it's certainly one opportunity."

Despite some interest in gaining access to public schools, Kunzman says many homeschoolers resist the notion:

"And, that's actually one of the hesitations of many home-school organizations, including the most prominent and powerful one -- the Home School Legal Defense Association; they're quite leery of advocating for greater access to public schools, because of the accompanying regulation and expectations that will inevitably follow in terms of what's required of students in order to participate and access those activities."