Chesterton Tribune

Truancy loophole: Little oversight or protections for children withdrawn from school

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Under Indiana Code, education is compulsory without exception for children aged 7 to 16.

For all practical purposes, though, that law is unenforceable.

Item: nothing in state law requires parents who opt to enroll their child, beginning at age 7, in a nonpublic, nonaccredited school—a religiously affiliated school, say, or a homeschool—to notify the local school corporation of their decision unless the superintendent specifically asks. As a result, the local school corporation is unable to verify whether these parents truly are providing their child with an education because there’s no official record—except possibly for a birth certificate—that these children exist at all.

Item: nothing in state law requires a public school corporation to verify whether students withdrawn from the corporation to be enrolled at a nonpublic, nonaccredited school actually have been so enrolled.

Item: nothing in state law defines or regulates the curriculum in a nonpublic, nonaccredited school or otherwise mandates that children in such a school undergo standardized skills or competency testing like ISTEP. Actually just the opposite: Indiana Code specifically states that “nonpublic” and “nonaccredited” schools “are not bound by any requirements” in state law “with regard to curriculum or the content of educational programs.”

Note: not all nonpublic schools are nonaccredited. St. Patrick Catholic School in Chesterton is accredited, its students take the ISTEP, and they perform exceedingly well on it.

The sections of Indiana Code which apply to nonpublic, nonaccredited schools are these:

•IC 20-33-2-8 exempts a child from attendance at a public school beginning at age 7 if otherwise enrolled in a nonaccredited, nonpublic school or otherwise provided “with instruction equivalent to that given in public schools.” Although “upon request of the superintendent” the parent must certify his intention to enroll his child in a nonpublic, nonaccredited school, the law provides no mechanism by which the superintendent would have a record in the first place of a child not previously enrolled in the local public school corporation.

•IC 20-33-2-12 exempts nonpublic, nonaccredited schools of all curricular or educational requirements placed on public schools.

•IC 20-33-2-20 requires all nonpublic schools to maintain “an accurate daily record of the attendance” of their students. “In a nonpublic school, the record shall be required to be kept solely to verify the enrollment and attendance of a student upon request of the state superintendent or superintendent of the school corporation in which the nonpublic school is located.” In short, it’s the local superintendent’s choice whether or not to insist on reviewing that attendance record, assuming that the superintendent is even aware that a given child is enrolled in the nonpublic school.

•IC 20-33-2-9 requires a public school to conduct an exit interview with a child aged at least 16 and his parent, if the parent wishes to withdraw him. At that interview the child and parent must acknowledge that early withdrawal “is likely to reduce the student’s future earnings” and “increase the student’s likelihood of being unemployed in the future.” Indiana Code does not require a similar exit interview for children younger than 16 whose parents wish to withdraw them for homeschooling.

•IC 20-33-2-21 permits the Indiana State Superintendent of Education to ask the “school administrator in a nonpublic school” to list the number of students by grade level—but not their names or addresses—attending that school. Nothing, however, requires the State Superintendent to request that information.

•IC 20-33-2-21 does codify one safeguard. A nonpublic school is obligated to report the name and address of a student withdrawn from that school to the local school corporation or to the State Superintendent, if no other school has requested that student’s educational records within 15 days after the date of withdrawal.



Posted 3/30/2012