The Nebraska Department of Education will rethink proposed rule changes affecting families who home-school their children after advocates turned out in force at a hearing last month to oppose them.
And this time, the education department’s Russ Inbody told the Nebraska Board of Education on Thursday, state officials will meet with those home-schooling advocates to get their suggestions for drafting rule changes intended to prevent conflicts with the state’s tougher truancy law.
“We probably should have done it in the first place,” Inbody said. “But we thought we were helping. Obviously, people thought differently.”
The proposed changes were prompted by a Nebraska Supreme Court case involving a Farnam couple convicted of violating the state’s truancy laws because they hadn’t notified state officials they were home-schooling their children before public school started in the fall.
Eric Thacker and Gail Morgan-Thacker were in the process of notifying the state Department of Education that they intended to home-school their children for the 2012-13 school year, but there still was a gap between the time public school started and the date the home-school instruction began. That led to the truancy charges.
The lower court sided with the state, which argued the children were presumed to be in public or private school until they notified the state. The high court disagreed and sided with the family, saying the rules only required parents to notify the department 30 days before they started home schooling.
That led the state to propose changes in the rules including:
* Creating a July 1 deadline — instead of 30 days before the start of school — for parents to notify the state if they intend to home-school their children for the first time.
Families still could begin instruction whenever they wanted, Inbody said, but the change would mean law enforcement and school districts would be aware they were going to home-school their children and avoid situations like the that of the Thackers.
* Changing the annual notification date for home-school families from July 15 to July 1.
* Requiring that parents wait for acknowledgement from the state before taking their children out of approved schools in order to begin home schooling. The rules also would require the state to review the paperwork and provide that acknowledgement within 30 days.
State law has allowed parents to home-school their children since 1984, following a long battle.
And the latest proposals rankled home-school advocates, more than 200 of whom turned out to the public hearing held in Lincoln, with satellite sites in Grand Island and Scottsbluff.
They testified or submitted written testimony that the proposed changes would infringe on their freedom and amounted to over-regulation.
They also said the changes appear to require them to ask the state's permission to home-school, rather than simply provide notification.
“The government is not my kids’ parents,” Melani Wonch wrote to the education department. “God gave that job to my husband and I and we intend to do our job and don’t appreciate the government thinking they have a say in our home, in our Faith or our way of life. It is simply un-American.”
Among those who submitted written testimony opposing the changes was Omaha State Sen. Beau McCoy, a Republican candidate for governor.
Board members took the advice of Inbody and took no action on the proposed changes while department representatives reach out to home-schooling advocates. Following those meetings, Inbody said, he will report back to the board about any recommended changes.
He said the changes were not meant to imply the need to get permission from the state to home-school children, or make the process more difficult.
“Our intention was not to restrain the community’s rights or create new barriers,” he said.