Districts vary in level of home-schooling involvement
Hillary and Louis Kolssak home-school their sons (from right) Spencer, 16, Logan, 12, and Nathanael, 8, at their home in Winnetka. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 13, 2012 3:14PM
LINCOLNSHIRE — While most children in Buffalo Grove and Lincolnshire packed their book bags and returned to their local elementary and high schools in late August, some students stayed at home — and that is OK.
Parents wishing to home school their children may find Illinois to be a friendly place.
While some states require parents to provide authorities with test results or use a state-approved curriculum, Illinois leaves parents alone to decide what to teach, when to teach it — or whether to let the child’s curiosity lead the way, a philosophy known as “unschooling.” The parent also is free to decide when a high-school-aged student has met the requirements for a diploma.
“You’re considered as though you’re a private school,” said Roycealee Wood, Lake County regional superintendent of schools.
Because parents don’t have to register home-schooled children with state or local education agencies, officials at numerous local public schools don’t have much information about those kids living within their district boundaries.
“We have not received any type of report from the state or the regional superintendent’s office indicating how many home schooled high schoolers there are living within District 125 boundaries,” said Jim Conrey, spokesman for Stevenson High School. “Consequently, we don’t have any idea how many home schooled high school students there are in our district.”
Conrey said the only official interaction SHS has with home schools happens when parents choose to pull out a student who has begun studying there, which requires the completion of a withdrawal form.
And though parents are not required to give documentation, the districts are allowed to request it.
“I frequently have parents call asking for the process and I suggest that they send a letter to our office stating that they are home schooling — just for us to have verification that the child is not truant,” said Terri Fergus, executive assistant to the superintendent at Community Consolidated Elementary District 21. “Beyond that, it is the parent’s responsibility to acquire the curriculum they use.”
Under the state’s compulsory attendance law, parents may be asked to provide evidence that the child is being taught the same subjects as would be taught to public school children of the same age. A parent who fails to offer age-appropriate instruction, in English, in six specific disciplines, is in violation of the law. The mandatory subjects are language arts, math, biology and physical science, social science, fine arts and physical development and health.
Betsy Fresen, spokeswoman for Kildeer-Countryside Elementary District 96, said officials there know of a family within the district boundaries that teaches their children at home. The district allows those children to participate in school extracurricular activities.
A ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court in 1950 formed the state’s hands-off stance related to the registration of home-schooled kids. There is a voluntary form on the State Board of Education website reminding parents to register students.
“We’re one of about three or four states left that treats home schooling in that manner,” Wood said Monday. “When you try to have them be more accountable, then they get angry and call their legal counsel.”
According to the State Board of Education, 684 home schools representing 810 children registered for the 2011-12 school year — 27 in Lake County, 185 in Cook and 14 in McHenry.
When the National Center for Education Statistics last reported on home schooling in its 2009 Condition of Education report, the number of home schooled students was pegged at 1.5 million students, or 2.9 percent of all children and teens between five and 17. If the national ratio holds true for Illinois, the number of home schooled children in the state would be closer to 66,800.
When asked their reasons for home schooling, 36 percent of parents said the primary reason was to provide religious or moral instruction. Another 21 percent were concerned about the school environment, while 17 percent were dissatisfied with the academic instruction in their local schools.