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The latest proposed changes to state education rules governing home-schools, which drew more than 200 angry families to a state education board meeting two years ago, finally appear to please both sides.

The initial attempt to change the rules governing home-schools, which are exempt from the state's accreditation regulations, were prompted by tougher state truancy laws and a Nebraska Supreme Court decision in 2013.

But home-school advocates balked at the proposed changes, saying they amounted to over-regulation and infringed on parental authority. 

State education officials and those advocates have been negotiating rule changes since and on Friday, the Nebraska Board of Education will vote on -- and likely approved -- revised rules.

“I know it’s been a long, hard road but I think everybody’s happy with the rule,” Glen Flint, District 2 board member from Springfield, said at a Thursday work session.

The proposed changes address deadlines for notifying the Nebraska Department of Education of a family’s plan to home-school and makes allowances for families who move to Nebraska in the middle of the school year or choose to remove their children from an accredited public or private school mid-year.

Two years ago state officials said they were only trying to avoid conflicts with the state’s tougher truancy laws, which came into play in a Nebraska Supreme Court case involving a Farnam couple convicted of violating them because they hadn’t notified state officials they were home-schooling their children before public school started in the fall.

Prosecutors argued that until a parent obtains the state's recognition of a home-school, children must attend a legally recognized school during the public school calendar year.

The high court disagreed, ruling that state law does not require home-schools follow the public school calendar, only that the minimum hours of instruction -- 1,032 for elementary school and 1,080 for secondary school -- be met by June 30 of each year.

After the Supreme Court ruling, the Education Department proposed creating a July 1 notification deadline for families that intended to home-school their children for the first time, although they could begin instruction whenever they wanted.

The initial changes also would have required that parents wait for acknowledgment from the state before taking their children out of approved schools to begin home-schooling them.

Kathleen Lenzen, whose husband is president of the Nebraska Christian Home Educators Association, said the rules violated the Supreme Court decision and it took two years of working with the state to get a proposal that didn’t.

“The Thacker decision made it very clear you can home-school any time as long as you can meet the hour requirements,” she said.

Now, Lenzen is satisfied with the proposal the board will vote on Friday, as are other home-school advocates.

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The new rules would require families who want to home-school to notify the state by July 15, but it allows for exceptions for families who move into the state mid-year or choose to remove their children from a public or accredited private school mid-year.

In either of those cases, the proposed rules require families “promptly” notify state officials of their intent to home-school. They then have 30 days to file documentation of planned courses and curriculum to the department.

“We worked with them to come up with a compromise that works for both of us,” said Bryce Wilson, Education Department director of finance and organizational services.

The changes also combine two similar rules, streamline some of the forms and eliminate the need for a notary signature on some forms.

Kathryn Dillow, on the board of the Home Educators Network in Omaha, said at an earlier hearing that the old rules were ineffectively written and caused confusion that led to the Supreme Court case.

The latest proposal honors parental authority and responsibility and respects school choice while being sensitive to the challenges of administering the program, she said.

Lenzen, who was part of a long battle in the 1980s to allow for exempt schools in the state, said the process that resulted in the latest proposed changes was good.

“The Nebraska Department of Education has probably realized that parents are committed to teaching their children," she said. "I think they have lots of rules and regulations that serve the masses in public schools, private schools, etc., but that doesn’t necessarily work for home-schools. I think that is reflected in the (proposed) rules now.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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