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The “Show Me” Letter

Answering school officials who ask for more than the law allows[Note: This post refers to specific legal requirements in Virginia at the time that Shay’s Notice of Intent was filed. While we suggest that you apply the principle of the "Show Me” letter to the legal requirements in your state, it is your responsibility to determine the exact legal requirements in your locality.]

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When I filed my first Notice of Intent to homeschool in 1995, I was extremely nervous. I was without the benefit of gaining information and support from the Internet, and some of the stories I had read in homeschooling books were frightening. I knew very few other homeschoolers, and they all filed under a different option. As I wrote the “description of the program of study” and other required material to mail to the superintendent’s office, I felt like I was about to enter a dangerous landscape. I was afraid that “they” would “come after me.”

The word “they” represented a nebulous threat, a vague composition of all the “school people” who might “come after me,” try to interfere with the educational choice I was making for my children. I attempted to ward off the lot of them by submitting a 12-page thinly veiled legal brief. It cited court cases and state law, included a program of study defined the state’s Standards of Learning for math and language arts, and was heavy on “educationese.” Even though my hopes were pinned on this pre-emptive strike, I waited nervously for a response from the county school division.

In subsequent years, I gradually cut my verbiage until it became the single page I now submit. These 15 years later, I laugh at my first year’s Notice of Intent. My ridiculous over-documentation probably had the school division staffers passing my papers around the office, laughing as they exclaimed, “What the heck is this?!”

Despite my anxiety, even with being one to file under a less common option, I had no real trouble with the school division in a decade and a half. The only “problem” was very minor, a few years into my homeschooling adventures. This happened when a new administrator, unfamiliar with the finer points of the homeschool law, asked for more than the legal requirement. She called to tell me she wanted a list of the books I would be using. Being an unschooler, I couldn’t guess what books would grab my kids’ interest. Even if I could guess, this was beyond the law. However, I felt this phone conversation was not the time to say so. “OK,” I told the staffer.

My first action after hanging up the phone was to post about the call on my statewide homeschool discussion list, VaEclectic. Some suggested I seek legal counsel, but I wasn’t about to pay a lawyer’s fee for something this trivial. Others said I should “make up something and give them what they want,” just to appease the powers that be. That would have been an easy enough task, but disingenuous. It would have left me with that lingering uneasy feeling that comes when I neglect to do the right thing—and the thing that frightens me is usually the right thing! So, I chose a slightly more difficult action: telling the school division to show me that “they” were right to ask for a list of books.

The hard part of the plan was moving forward despite a slight continued fear of “their” authority. However, coming up with the words was the easy part. I simply wrote a letter to the staffer, saying that I had read the Home Instruction statute, saw no provision in it for submitting a list of books, but if they could indicate the passage of the law that says I must, I would be happy to comply. A few days later, an envelope arrived from the school division. With some anxiety, I opened it, and found a letter stating that the staff had determined I had met the legal requirements to homeschool that year. There was no mention of a book list, and I never again received an extra-legal request from the school system.

Of course, I shared this news with my list mates right away. It was met with some surprise, and my fellow homeschoolers commended me for the display of courage. After that, whenever a homeschooler reported that a school staffer asked for too much, I told my little story and encouraged them to do similar. I also made sure to protect myself with a standard disclaimer, “I am not a lawyer and I cannot give legal advice. For legal advice, seek a licensed attorney.” This, because a lawyer had threatened a friend of mine with a charge of “practicing law without a license,” because my friend had dared to interpret the Commonwealth’s homeschool law himself.

Gradually, the “show me” letter concept spread. Greater numbers of homeschoolers—in Virginia and across the country—tried this simple response when a school division over-stepped its authority. In most cases, it worked just as well as it did for me.

It has been years since I told the story or suggested that another homeschooler try this tack. This is because the advice became a solid component of the VaEclectic community. On the rare occasion when a Virginia homeschooler reports such an issue, she or he receives multiple responses that encourage the list member to calmly and politely ask the division to “show me where it says that in the law.” I don’t have to say a thing. Instead, I watch with amazement and delight as the information spreads.

Sticking up for oneself by offering calm and reasoned response to the school division is no longer a rare or difficult thing. Instead, through supporting each other in our own community, homeschoolers have empowered ourselves to feel confident in our homeschooling and to conquer our fear.

Shay Seaborne

Shay Seaborne has been writing about home education since she began homeschooling her children in 1995. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Home Education Magazine and “The Ultimate Book of Homeschooling Ideas” by Linda Dobson. Shay has been very active in the homeschool community, at the local, state and national levels. She founded and led a local support group for several years and was a key volunteer with The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers for a decade. Ms. Seaborne formed the grassroots coalition that resolved a serious issue with her county’s homeschool regulation and won homeschoolers the right to partial enrollment. Shay loves people, loves helping people, loves being a synergist, and loves to witness people grow, thrive, and become empowered and happy. She is the founder/owner/co-moderator of the VaEclecticHS discussion list. Shay posts about homeschooling, life and experiences at her blog, www.SynergyField.com.

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Comments

  1. Sue Carnevale

    I’m anxious to home-school my kids, I just want to be sure this is the best action to take considering my situation. You see I have two special needs kids. and although I appreciate the value and fluidity of home-schooling. I have never attempted to do such a thing. My children’s medical needs have brought challenges I never thought I would confront. I need a step-by-step plan that would give us the benefits of learning at home and still encourage my kids to have communication with other children. Does anyone have any idea, how I should go about this?

  2. Francesca

    I recently moved to tuba city, AZ
    We want to home school my five year.
    I am confuse with how to start the legal part of it. Please help.
    Thank you

    • Hi Francesca,

      You will want to read our articles at Homeschool 101. One section talks about knowing your state’s requirements. If you click through, you will find a map with links to all the states, which will then take you to organizations that know the homeschool laws in your state. This is something you should read about on your own, and then if you have questions, you should ask your state homeschool organization. Since the laws are different in all fifty states and around the world, and they can change from year-to-year, it’s important for you to read them for yourself and then talk to people who homeschool where you live.

      Happy Homeschooling!

      Jeanne

  3. Brianne

    Hi, I am new to the process, trying to write up a letter of intent to the district but not sure how or what to say. We live in Ohio. My daughter has special needs and I’m worried they are not going to allow me to withdrawal her 🙁
    Can you give some tips on what the letter should say. She’s behind grade level so I am a little perplexed on how to explain the curriculum.

    Thanks
    Bri

  4. Please note that homeschooling is regulated by the state, which means each state has different requirements. We cannot advise on the specifics legalities or requirements of homeschooling in any particular area.

  5. RaChelsea soltesz

    Hello, I live in Ohio. I need to pull my 6th grader out of school immediately. There are things going on better left un said. I only found this out over Easter break. Help ! I’m scared and have NO idea where to begin. I did not send him back today. Is there anyone I can talk to on the phone I have so many questions ?

    • Hi RaChelsea – I apologize for the delay in responding. We do not offer personal consultations, but we have quite a bit of information on our website to help you get started. I recommended reading Homeschooling 101 to start, drilling down into each of the topics (especially Deschooling for children and parents). It sounds like homeschooling is a good option for your son – you can do this! Keep in mind that you were his primary teacher before enrolling him in school, and you have the ability to direct his education even if that means sometimes outsourcing topics. Best wishes to you and your son!

  6. Nanci Saulsberry

    Hello, I live in Mo. and I am getting ready to home school my son for the first time. School will be out for the summer in 7 weeks is it to late to homeschool for the remaining of the year?

    Thank you

  7. John Richmond

    I’m in miss in the booneville ms area what is there here for support n someone that is has a homeschools program in plan that u can kinda look at

  8. Donna Adams

    I live in Texas and wanting to home school. Will I have trouble taking my kids out of public school. Kindergarten and second graders?

    • Hi Donna – since homeschooling is regulated by the state, we do not offer advice on how to comply with various state requirements. On our Homeschooling in Texas page you will find links to more information about Texas groups and websites that can give you more information from homeschoolers who live there.

  9. D.K.

    I intend no offense, but this seems like a non-issue. You are fortunate beyond measure if this is the biggest administrative hurdle that you’ve had to overcome as a parent. For some parents, bureaucratic hurdles are a matter of life and death. In terms of courage, you received a request from a staffer and denied it, which ranks up there with paying your utility bill on time or opting not to tip a rude waiter. Just going by what you have written, your anticipation of conflict led you to perceive threats where none existed. A staffer asked for a list of books, which may have reflected a genuine interest and concern for the well-being of your child. You replied with a passive aggressive letter couched in an inherent legal threat. Sadly, you did not meet face-to-face or engage in a dialogue, because for all you know, this person may have asked after your child, not with the intention of slapping you down in some official capacity, but because he or she had hoped to share some expertise and offer some valuable recommendations for good resources. I’ve had this happen frequently since I started homeschooling my son. This staffer may even be homeschooling, as a surprising number of teachers in my area refuse to send their children to the school where they teach. I don’t know the character of your hometown, and perhaps the school administration there is staffed solely by black-hearted demons summoned up from the blackest pits of hell. I can say though that in my experience, taking the time to speak to people face-to-face clears up most misconceptions, which are just as often my own, as I have come to discover that the looming menace of “them” includes a great many people with life experiences similar to my own, who are willing to step outside the restraints of bureaucracy to help ensure the well-being of my children. There are some awful people too, but the really bad ones aren’t nearly as intimidated by letters as they are forceful eye contact and a firm handshake. I feel that this article does a disservice to the person who requested that list of books and also to your readers, as I can tell you from experience that it is an awful thing to have your fears entrench you in a siege mentality. More so, you give the false impression that your letter resolved anything. It is in a file, along with everything else from you if “they” ever need leverage to demonstrate non-compliance. The fear can always feed itself.

    • DC Ma

      I think the show-me letter is a confident response. A friendly, supportive or purely curious inquery for a book list can be much better phrased and explained as completely optional, instead of being a phone call from someone from an institution with the authority before giving their approval. I think the letter is very beneficial to the staff, in encouraging them to learn about this aspect of their job.

  10. Shomarra

    Hi. I am new to homeschooling. I live in New Jersey. Do you have a sample letter of your Notice of Intent. I will be pulling my 5 year old out of public school until we can find a better solution. I an in the process of drafting my letter. I will be homeschooling starting November 1, 2014.

    Thanks for any assistance you can provide.

    Sincerely,
    Scared and Nervous Parent

    • Hi Shomarra – Since Shay is in Virginia, her letter would not be relevant for NJ. Your best bet is to read the homeschool statute for NJ and provide only the information they ask for. Your state homeschool organizations can be helpful in this regard. While it’s natural to be nervous the first time, knowing the law can give you the confidence that you are meeting its requirements. This FAQ for NJ might be helpful. Best wishes, and enjoy the journey!

  11. Carrie, without knowing what state you are in, I cannot answer your question. Whichever state you are in, the best source of answers to questions like yours would be your inclusive state-wide homeschool association–here in the Old Dominion that would be http://www.VaHomeschoolers.org –or an email discussion list populated with other homeschoolers.

  12. Carrie

    Hi my family just moved to another school district
    Am I required to give notice to this school district , they don’t know we exist yet
    Thanks

  13. DEBRA

    DO YOU THINK THIS WOULD WORK FOR THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION AS WELL? THEY STOPPED MY DAUGHTER’S PAY LAST YEAR FOR SEVERAL MONTHS, AND THEN WHEN THEY STARTED IT BACK UP, THEY REFUSED TO PAY HER BACK PAY, TELLING ME THEY NEEDED TO SEE HER SCHOOL RECORDS! I DON’T FEEL THAT I SHOULD HAVE TO OBLIGE THEM WITH THAT INFORMATION WHATSOEVER, BUT THEY STILL HAVE YET TO PAY IT, AND NOW THEY ARE CUTTING HER OFF 2 MONTHS EARLY ONCE AGAIN THIS YEAR! I AM SO FURIOUS, BUT DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO!

    ALSO, I’M NOT YELLING IN ALL CAPS, I’M JUST VISUALLY CHALLENGED AND SEE ALL CAPS MUCH BETTER – PLEASE DON’T BE OFFENDED! THANKS FOR YOUR HELP.

  14. Sandra

    Peace of mind , thanks!

  15. Shannon Finlay

    Thank you for sharing your experience.

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