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As we begin a new school year, I thought a review on the history of homeschooling in New Jersey would be appropriate. Veteran homeschoolers out there already know this, but for new homeschooling families, it has not always been as easy as it is now to educate your children at home.
The State’s first compulsory attendance statute was enacted in 1875, before that education was generally at home or church-based. In the 1920’s, the current education statutes was enacted, NJSA18:14-14, now called NJSA 18A:38-25, which has always permitted parents the option to educate your children to “receive equivalent instruction elsewhere than at school”.
In 1963, a woman named Barbara Massa decided to homeschool her nine-year-old daughter. The Massa family homeschooled without incident for two years, and then re-enrolled their daughter in the local public school in 1965. Her parents took her out of school in April 1966 and kept her out through the middle of November 1966. At that time, Mr. & Mrs. Massa were charged with failing to cause their daughter to attend their local school or to provide her with an equivalent education. They were tried and convicted in municipal court, but appealed and in the spring of 1967 their case reached the Morris County Court. Mrs. Massa acting as her own lawyer easily convinced the judge that she had indeed fulfilled her obligations.
The judge ruled that the word “equivalent” in the compulsory attendance statute requires only a showing of academic equivalency, not equivalence of methods, schedules or outcomes. This ruling was the beginning of homeschooling in New Jersey as we enjoy it today.
In 1982 the Education Commissioner Fred Burke stated the “the local Board of Education has no responsibility for determining progress of students being instructed at home, and there is likewise no authority to require testing.”
In 1994 a bill was introduced by Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalke, which would have required testing of homeschooled children. Dedicated parents rose to the call and educated her on the advantages of homeschooling and that testing was not needed. She was convinced and withdrew her bill from consideration.
In 1997, The Department of Education confused matters by introducing new booklet that superseded the Burke memo. This booklet instructed local Boards of Education to collect and approve a curriculum annually for each homeschooling family in their district.
In 2000, ENOCH took an initiative and began meeting with the Commissioner of Education and they convened a task force to craft a new and accurate explanation of the law. Known as the “Klagholz Guidelines” it is now in a booklet called “Homeschooling Frequently Asked Questions”.
On Jan 8, 2004, Assembly Bill A4033 was introduced into the State Legislature that would require homeschool children to submit to the same statewide testing required of public school children, force parents to submit proof of annual medical exam to the local school district along with a possibility of other requirements. The legislative session ended on Jan 12th and the bill died, but was reintroduced in the next session on Jan 22nd as A1918. The NJ Homeschool Task force was formed with leaders from various homeschooling groups throughout the state, (Tricounty Home Educators Association, New Jersey Homeschool Association, ENOCH of NJ, Unschoolers Network, Catholic Homeschoolers of NJ, HSLDA and Eagle Forum). Homeschoolers held a rally at the state capital on May 26th and the bill died in committee.
On September 22, 2008 a bill was introduced in to the New Jersey Assembly that was an even worse bill than A1918. The task force was reconvened and after calls from homeschoolers throughout the state the bill died quietly in committee.
You can see that there have been battles to keep the freedoms that homeschoolers in New Jersey enjoy. ENOCH, HSLDA along with other homeschooling organization throughout New Jersey are always keeping an eye out for anything that could have a detrimental effect on our freedom to homeschool.
A valuable source on the struggles of pioneer homeschoolers throughout the United States is a book written by Chris Klicka, who up until his death in 2009 was an attorney for HSLDA; “Home School Heroes: The Struggle & Triumph of Home Schooling in America”. I know some of those pioneers personally and they have been a great encouragement to my family. Some are still helping homeschoolers throughout the country even though their children are grow and some are homeschooling their own children.
A word of encouragement to veteran homeschoolers - stay connected. You could help a struggling newcomer or even help someone who is thinking about homeschooling make that decision.
As you begin this new school year take a moment to think about those who paved the way for our freedoms.
Until next time,
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