Homeschooled, Homeless — All Students Served By Regional Office of Education
- Editor’s Note: This article, contributed by Ellen Kamps of the Regional Office of Education, is part of an ongoing series on Kane County Connects about the function of Kane County and local government offices.
It’s easy to think of services offered by Kane County Regional Office of Education as being exclusively targeted to traditional public schools and their students, but that is only a part of the role that the state’s 35 Regional Offices of Education play.
A core responsibility of the Kane County Regional Office of Education is to provide guidance and assistance to school districts and families, in order to assure that students receive a quality education, according to Regional Superintendent Patricia Dal Santo.
Three areas that the public may not always think about involve residency, homeschooling and services to homeless students.
“The first priority of every regional superintendent is to the student. Whether it is clarifying residency issues, working with parents who homeschool or providing services to homeless youth, we must always put the student first,” Dal Santo said.
School district residency is not always as straightforward today as it once was. Blended families, divorced, separated or never-married parents and parents who must travel to work can all cause confusion.
State law is clear: Every child is entitled to tuition-free enrollment in the school district where he or she resides. Children are presumed to live in the school district where the persons who have legal custody of the child live, Dal Santo explained.
After a divorce, a child is presumed to reside with the custodial parent, but joint custody arrangements are becoming increasingly common and can add to confusion. Parents can also find school district boundaries confusing. Regional Offices of Education can help parents determine where district boundaries lie, how residency requirements work and what they must do to demonstrate residency.
More than 60 years ago, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that home schooling is considered a “private school” and students and parents who choose to home school their children are in compliance with mandatory education requirements so long as the teacher (which can be a parent or a private tutor) is competent, required subjects are taught and the student receives an education at least equivalent to public schooling (People v. Levisen, 404 Ill. 574 (1950)).
While parents are not required to register home-schooled students, many parents choose to notify their regional superintendent of education and/or the State Board of their intention to home-school. A simple one-page form is available for families that choose to use the form.
State law gives Illinois parents a great degree of latitude in designing and choosing a program of home education that best meets the needs of their children. But that also places near-total responsibility on parents for their student’s education while they are being home-schooled. In a 1974 decision, a federal district court stated the burden of proof rests with parents to establish that their plan of home instruction meets state requirements.
Dal Santo explained that the regional superintendent of schools has first-line responsibility for investigating reports of noncompliance with the compulsory attendance laws found in the Illinois School Code.
To meet their responsibility, Regional Offices of Education must, when necessary, establish that parents are indeed providing instruction that is at least commensurate with the standards established for public schools. When there is evidence that home instruction does not satisfy state law, the regional superintendent is obligated to have a local truant officer investigate.
More than 54,000 Illinois students were homeless in 2015, according to a May 2016 report from the Illinois State Board of Education. While that was down from the previous two years, it was still more than double the numbers who were reported homeless in 2010.
All children, including the homeless, are entitled to a free public education. But, homeless children face a number of obstacles and unique challenges. The goal of the Homeless Education Program is to assist School Districts to ensure equal educational access for all homeless children and youth, including preschoolers, so that each student will have the opportunity to succeed in school programs and meet the same challenging state standards to which all students are held.
The federal McKinney‐Vento Act requires school districts to be pro‐active in finding homeless children who are not attending school and identifying which children and youth are homeless. Regional offices of education work with families and with local school districts to assure that homeless children get enrolled and are able to attend school. ROEs also offer specialized training and assistance for school districts to help identify and offer services to homeless children. In addition, through their regional safe and alternative schools, may ROEs directly serve the educational needs of homeless children.
About the Kane County Regional Office of Education
Led by Regional Superintendent of Schools Patricia Dal Santo, The Kane County ROE is located in Geneva and serves nine school districts. From teacher licensure assistance to professional development, the ROE’s mission is to advocate for education, provide leadership and perform regulatory functions. Learn more about the ROE’s offerings on Facebook, Twitter and by signing up for the semimonthly newsletter.