for Health and Welfare Investigations
In 2010, Homeschool Idaho worked in collaboration with Idaho’s Department of Health and Welfare to establish fair guidelines for the state’s investigation of complaints against home educators.
Below are the actual guidelines that the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is required to follow when investigating alleged educational neglect by a homeschooling family. These guidelines may also be viewed directly on the Idaho Department Health and Welfare website.
To assess educational neglect of home educated students,
the following assessment process shall be followed:
1. If a referent makes an allegation of educational neglect, stating the child is being home schooled, the intake social worker will explain to the referent that “homeschooling” does not constitute an allegation of educational neglect. Parents have many choices regarding the method for educating their child as well as the type of instructional materials they can use. If homeschooling is the only concern related to educational neglect, the referral will not be assigned for further assessment.
2. The role of the intake social worker is to ask specific questions to determine why the referent has reason to believe that educational neglect is occurring. If the referent can supply credible and sufficient detailed information that a child is not receiving instruction in subjects commonly and usually taught in the public schools as is required by Idaho Code, section 33-202, the referral will be assigned a priority three response and a social worker will respond for further assessment. The intake social worker will ask the referent if they have collateral contacts that can offer additional information.
3. If the referent does not provide credible and sufficient detailed information that is reasonable to believe educational neglect is occurring, the referral will be recorded as received, “information only.” The referral will not be assigned for further assessment.
4. If the referral has adequate information and is prioritized for a response, the social worker will contact the family to assess the concern. At initial contact, the parents will be informed of the reason and specifics of the referral, including the specific information which the social worker believes supports the referral.
5. If the family provides refuting evidence (consisting of either curriculum, test scores, lesson plans, or description of educational efforts, etc.) or demonstrates that the information from the referral is not credible, the assessment will be closed and dispositioned as unsubstantiated. It is not the role of the social worker to evaluate the quality of the instructional materials selected by the child’s parent or guardian, but to encourage parents to ensure compliance with Idaho Code, section 33-202.
6. If the family fails or refuses to provide evidence that education is taking place, the social worker will provide the family with referrals to educational programs and resources as appropriate.
7. The social worker will check with the family to see if they have taken advantage of the referrals to educational programs and resources.
8. If the family does not access or implement referrals to educational programs, the social worker may contact the prosecuting attorney regarding possible court intervention.
Additional Perspectives from Home Educators:
- Home educators often follow unconventional courses of study, which result in a high quality education, but not necessarily on the same schedule or at the same rate as public schooled students.
- There is tremendous variation in the natural rate at which children learn. There are quick learners and slow learners in public, private, and homeschool. The mere fact that a homeschooled child seems to be at a different academic level than other children of his age is not reason to suspect educational neglect.
- Some home educators do not use what would appear to be a standard curriculum, choosing instead to use whole books on topics that they are studying, which they have purchased or borrowed from a public library.
- Some home educators employ a teaching method that does not produce early competence in reading, but which will produce high reading ability in later years. Not reading at grade level is not evidence of educational neglect.
- Children with learning disabilities would not necessarily be working at grade level whether they are in public, private, or homeschool settings.
- Some home school families subtly integrate their instruction with their daily lives to such an extent that the children may scarcely be aware that they are being “schooled”, even when they really are. A statement from a child, especially a younger child who is not a mature observer, that “my mom doesn’t teach me anything”, or similar statements, are not reason to suspect educational neglect.
- Home educators often follow unconventional schedules that don’t follow public school start times, recess breaks, or vacations. There is no reason to suspect educational neglect merely because the children are not doing school work in lockstep with public school schedules.
- Sometimes relatives of a homeschool family oppose the family’s decision to homeschool their children. When they cannot talk them out of homeschooling, sometimes they will report the family to child protective services hoping a social worker will “do something.” Social workers should be sensitive to the possibility that, if the referent is a relative, the referent may be attempting to manipulate the social worker to assist them in their personal agenda to get the family to stop homeschooling. Social workers should avoid allowing themselves to be used as a pawn in a dispute of this nature among extended family members.
Dealing with Health and Welfare
Home education in Idaho stands on an equal footing with public schooling. Parents who choose to homeschool their children are not required to register with the state or with the local school district. They are not required to have their children take standardized achievement tests. So long as the child is being instructed in subjects commonly and usually taught in the public schools, no other requirement applies.
Occasionally, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, a local school district, or a police or sheriff’s department receives a complaint that a homeschooling family is not providing an adequate education to the children. By law, such an allegation must be investigated. If it is proven, juvenile charges may be brought against the child and criminal charges may be brought against the parents.
If a family is presented with a valid search warrant, they must cooperate within the bounds described in the warrant. If no search warrant has been obtained, families should be cautious as they consider whether to cooperate. Once in a great while, a police, school, or Health and Welfare investigator may use inappropriate methods to try to prove the existence of an educational violation. Although such instances are very rare, home schooling families should not assume that they never occur.
A parent who has been contacted by a Health and Welfare investigator may always ask to know the specific accusation that has been made and may also ask the investigator to explain where he or she is in the process described in the department investigation guidelines. Knowing the specific accusation that has been made makes it easier to supply the evidence to show that the allegation is untrue.
Homeschool Idaho strongly encourages all Idaho homeschooling families to join Home School Legal Defense Association. Among its many other member benefits is free legal defense when a member family is being investigated by the Department of Health and Welfare or any other agency. A social services investigation is a legal emergency, and should not be handled without a lawyer. Membership is available at HSLDA.org.