Can Anyone Help?

I do not offer legal advice as part of my Christopherus work. However, I was very moved by the following e-mail which was sent to me and wondered if anyone had any experience to share with this woman. I suggested she contact HSLDA but they have very narrow parameters regarding whom they will help and are not open to people who fall beyond their religious parameters. I also suggested she contact her state-wide secular homeschooling organization ASAP. And I extend to all of you, dear readers, the same advice. If you are a homeschooler, you really ought to join a state-wide (or province or country wide, depending on where you are) group both for support and as a show of strength. Many Draconian laws re homeschooling in numerous places have been prevented from being passed by the timely and vigilant attention of homeschooling organizations.
So if you’d like to chime in on this, please do:
I am going to soon be a single mother to a 5 1/2 year old, whom I wish to home school this year. The Guardian Ad Litem tells me that I need to propose a plan to her that will convince her that I am capable of schooling my young daughter in a consistent, structured, home setting.
Is there anyone that can help me develop a plan? I am new to the idea, and the issue has come up very fast–there is going to be a ruling regarding the matter of public versus home schooling soon. My husband is pushing for pubic school to avoid paying daycare, and I am committed to keeping our daughter at home with me for at least another year or 2.
I really appreciate any expertise you can pass on to me.
Thank You!
Here’s my response:
I do not get involved with legal disputes or anything to do with the courts…. However, there are a few pieces of information I can pass on to you:

1) Homeschooling starts in Wisconsin at age 6, not 5 1/2. Your child is still kindergarten age and therefore is not subject to compulsory schooling laws. Do not let anyone bully you about this! At the very least, I would ask the Guardian why she is insisting on this when kindergarten is not compulsory in Wisconsin.

2) Here is a link to the Homeschool Legal Defense Association and their page on Wisconsin law – they are an extremely helpful organization but are fundamentalist Christians so if you do not meet their criteria they might not be willing to help you

3) You MUST contact the Wisconsin Parents Association  (WPA) for help in this. However, they are a volunteer organization and as such are slow and sometimes hard to reach. However, they are experts in working with Wisconsin laws concerning home education.

4) Unfortunately, when a divorce or separation is being argued over with regard to a child’s education, things become very complicated. You have left this very very late – I hope you are able to get enough support and information in time. If there is any way to delay a decision so you can get all the advice you need, I am sure that would be helpful!

Best wishes,
And here is what she wrote further:
I am upset to say the GAL said at our hearing on the 15th that she “highly recommends” that our daughter attends kindergarten at a public school, that she believes she is “developmentally behind” and “not properly socialized”. Both are very untrue, she has not even met our daughter, nor has visited our home. She has many neighborhood friends she plays with, is very smart, and I believe “socialization” is really 1st learned in the home–with a family. My ex has never communicated his desire to send her to a public school this year, only to his attorney to avoid paying daycare and force me to work days instead of evenings, thus spending less time with my own daughter, whom I have cared for 95% of the time since she was born. I am distraught that a court system has the power to decide what is best for our little girl–whom they don’t even know. How have others successfully dealt with this? I feel completely helpless in the matter. I am told the GAL has the power in the courtroom.
Thanks so much,

Posted on September 23, 2008 in General Homeschooling

  • terra says:

    I’m very sorry to hear about your situation. I have had my own experience with a GAL, a woman who had no awareness is the short of it. She made grand presumptions and foolish assessments. Sounds familiar, yes? I’m not sure what the laws are on forcing your child to go to public school, dependent on if your ex has partial custody or not??Wisconsin law, Act 512( also statute 118.15part1a defines mandatory school age 6-18, as Donna stated) gives parents full freedom to home school without having to pass any prior exam or benchmarks,all you have to do so fill out form PI-1206 and send it to DPI.(you may know all of this) So, I find it strange that the GAL feels she has a right to decide if your home schooling abilities are up to par, this seems to be something you and your ex should work out in mediation. In the end for me, even though things looked bleak and the GAL was an idiot, my case came to a positive conclusion… she didn’t listen to me, but, she did listen to my lawyer. My blessings to you and your daughter.
    **WPA has a book that you can send for 608-283-3131, i think it $25 or $50 if you want to be a member and then the book is free. I found the information very helpful and empowering.

  • AJ says:

    I don’t know about the rules in your state. And, I don’t know if any of these ideas will work, but if it were me, I would leave no stone unturned.
    First, I would go to my neighbors and friends and I would ask them to put in writing any thoughts, or ‘evidence’ that they have about your daughter’s care.
    For example, if someone knows that you have done 95% of your daughter’s care, and is willing to testify to that, ask them to put that in writing. If your ex worked long hours, and you were the parent ‘on duty’ all the time, they should say so. Other items might be: If you take her to the park daily, if she always appears clean and well fed, if you take her to museums, community events, the library, etc. (These could demonstrate consistency, and good care.) Perhaps another friend has several kids of their own, and your daughter plays well with them, and on the same level as kids her own age. Does she share? Is she gentle with small children? Can she take turns? Work out disputes with her playmates? (All of these could be considered ‘socialization’?)
    Even more important would be if someone can testify about her skills. For example, if she reads ‘sight words’, does simple math, identifies the alphabet, etc. If she went to any type of play group, or ‘Sunday School’, the teacher/leader or other parents might be able to comment as well.
    I would also ask your pediatrician. They see kids all day, every day, and will be able to tell you how her development compares to that of other kids in the same age group. (Also, if there was a problem, your pediatrician would have TOLD you during one of her checkups, right?) The ped will also know if she was taken in for all the necessary checkups, vaccinations, etc. If the court is truly concerned about the child’s welfare, information from the kid’s doctor (who has seen her for X number of years) and actually can pick the child out of a crowd, should be considered over a recommendation from a GAL who has never seen the kid.
    Whatever statements these folks are able to make should be put in writing, and notarized. (If you have AAA, or a credit union, this is sometimes a free service for members.) I don’t know what method you would have to do to have them submitted to the court to be part of the record. Perhaps the judge has a clerk that you can call and ask for the ‘How to”?
    There ARE tests that can be given to show a child’s skills. In my particular area, “Sylvan” and “Huntingdon” give a CAT (California Achievement Test). The School District uses WISC or Woodcock-Johnson tests. I think it’s a lot of pressure to ask a little kid to take a test. However, if it’s the difference between complete upheaval in a little kid’s life, or the chance to homeschool, you may want to consider it. My understanding is that some tests can be used as a ‘baseline’ for showing what a child knows, and that others can be used to show how they have progressed. The independent agencies supposedly make it fun for little kids to participate.(I haven’t done this yet, but may need to down the road.)
    Next, I would find out how to submit, in writing, to the court, a statement that indicates that the GAL has never met the child in question, and has never visited your home. You should do this in the most RESPECTFUL way possible. You do not want to come off as a witch, only as a concerned parent that wants the best for their child, and is willing to cooperate with the other adults and make sure they have all the info they need.
    I would make it clear that you understand that the GAL is entrusted to ensure that the child receives the necessary services to thrive, and that you are more than willing to cooperate, since you BOTH have the child’s best interest in mind. You might also add that this situation (divorce) will mean a lot of change in her life, and that you want to make this as smooth for your daughter as possible.
    Explain that your current situation is X (home together during the day, with day care at night?) and that you have been doing it for X period of time (months? years?) and that up till now, your Ex did not express any disagreement with the situation. If he NEVER mentioned any desire to change that situation, then you should include that information as well. I
    Do you get a DISCOUNT at child care if you have been going there a long time? Would she have to ‘start over’ with a new day care? Would you lose any seniority/benefits/chance of promotion if you had to change your job hours? Any of this info should be included as well.
    (I can’t help but wonder: If he doesn’t want to pay for day care, then is he willing to have her at his place every night while you are at work? He IS her father, after all!)
    You didn’t mention the type of work that you do, but maybe there is someone you work with that can testify that you are organized, able to follow schedules, etc. If you have any “employee evaluations” that say this, you might request a copy of them from the HR Dept. and use this as ‘evidence’. If your job is VERY specific and organized, i.e. if you are a nurse in an ICU, that might speak to your abilities as well. (This might demonstrate to the GAL that you can provide the consistent structured setting.)
    Finally, I would take a look at the homeschooling curriculum you’re thinking of using, and see if the work is broken down into specific segments. There are many sites where you can download free schedules that you can fill in to show what you plan to achieve each week. Some of them even have boxes so you can check off each item as it’s completed. (More consistency, and structure.)
    This will be a lot of work, and you’ll have to work fast.
    Good Luck!

  • Robin says:

    Some people in this situation have enrolled their children some kind of homeschooling program through the public school system or an accredited homeschool program such as Oak Meadow. The point would be to have the legal status, assessment reports from the school, and also to have access to an already prepared lesson overview so that you don’t have to come up with it all yourself when you are under such pressure. Actually, if you go to you can see Oak Meadow’s kindergarten overview outline and just use it as a template for a lesson plan and also as an explanation of an educational theory/teaching method. They have already translated a more alternative educational method into a program that satisfies most public school requirements. Of course you will need to make sure it satisfies your state and the officials you are dealing with and your local homeschooling groups can help with that.

  • Barbara says:

    “HSLDA won’t help people who fall outside their religious parameters?” Huh? They helped me once and I belong to them and I am not an evangelical Christian. I am very curious as to the specifics of what you mean here. They do have specific guidelines on what they considering home education – that is should be structured….that is something they state on their application but I am unaware of religious issues for “help”. Please clarify. Thank you very much!

  • donna says:

    Hi Barbara,
    I have been told my numerous people who have sought help from HSDLA that they would not assist them because they did not fall within HSLDA’s parameters of faith. This came up in conversations between members of HSLDA and those particular homeschoolers. I also know some conservative (Protestant) Christians who have found HSDLA to be extremely helpful.
    If you discover through your membership that HSDLA has changed these policies (which of course might not be formal policies but rather the shortcomings of particular individuals) then I’d be happy to know about this!

  • julie knapp says:

    If the GAL asked to see a “plan” maybe it is possible to convince her that this mom has a sincere desire to homeschool, and that she has figured out (time-wise) how she will be able to follow thru, while working full time? If she wants a plan — give her a “plan”!
    I agree with the previous poster that enrolling in a homeschool program of some sort would probably help support her case to the GAL — especially since she doesn’t have any previous experience to show as evidence of success at homeschooling. It will also give her a ready-made homeschool plan.
    Do remind the GAL (and the courts) that the state of Wisconsin DOES NOT require homeschoolers to submit a plan — only a one-page notice of intent to homeschool, which inludes an agreement to provide a recommended number of hours of insruction (which can include educational activities of any nature –not only direct instruction).
    Oak Meadow (suggested by a previous poster) is a well-established Waldorf inspired curriculum — an arts-based approach to education, and is very child-centered — but it costs $750 per semester. If money is tight, I might suggest Ambleside Online, instead, which is a well-establish (but free!) Charlotte Mason inspired curriculum. It is also child-centered, and uses a literature-based approach (centered on reading with the child).
    There are many other free online sources of curriculum, if the mom has some objection to either of these options! It will just take a little research on her part to pull together a list of what she will use, and what the schedule will be. I run a website full of free resources for new homeschoolers, including information on getting started, and help choosing a curriculum or approach — I also run an online support group for homeschool parents that she is welcome to join to ask advice of other parents (several of whom have been thru divorces in Wisconsin)-
    I assume that the child will have opportunities for socialization in her childcare environment? (Either with other children in care or supplemented by trips to play groups, storytimes, and other outings.) That should be mentioned in her plan, too.
    It is quite common for homeschooling parents to also work outside of the home. The main difficulty is, of course, child care — but it seems she already has that in place!
    If the husband is pushing public school for financial reasons (to his benefit) then the mom will have to make a very strong case for homeschooling being in the best interest of her child — and that THAT is what should be of major concern of the courts. I agree with the other posters that she should gather as much positive testimony as she can to support her desire to keep her child at home.
    Perhaps she can think of a way to barter with the child’s father — give up something he wants to have, in exchange for sole rights to make educational decisions on the child’s behalf? This is an option in Wisconsin.
    The Homeschool Diner

  • Barbara says:

    Dear Donna,
    I have been an HSLDA member during two periods of my life. Once I belonged as an atheist and now as a Catholic. My faith never was asked of me and never was an issue. So, I called my representative at HSLDA and asked him if there was any such policy to deny service to people of different faiths. He said there was not. He also said that different people employed by HSLDA have varying relgious beliefs. He stated HSLDA is primarily a parent advocacy group. As for the specifics on this case he said divorce creates a difficult situation because married persons are required to join together. One needs to be already divorced to join alone. He said she should call to determine if HSLDA can help her make a case to the father and court regarding home education & then she should call discuss whether she should join. Her religious beliefs aren’t relevant.
    I hope that helps. I thought the best thing to do was to get this straight from a lawyer at HSLDA and he told me flat out that no such policy of discrimination based on faith exists.

  • donna says:

    Dear Barbara,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to do this for us! I certainly appreciate it! But…. I must admit that this is curious to me because the people I spoke with (this wasn’t hearsay) were adamant that either their different faiths or their lack of a religious life made their relationship with HSLDA problematic. However, I certainly believe what you say and what the man you spoke to said. So I’ll just put it in the mix and add it to what I advise people in future!
    Thank you again. And thank you to all of you for being to helpful with this. I am sure that many people will find all of this extremely useful to them.

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