Area districts vary in level of home-schooling involvement
Vicki and Dan Del Boccio take Olivia, 17, and Mario, 16, all of Park Ridge, on educational field trips around the world to complement their homeschool learning. The family most recently traveled to Patagonia, Argentina. | Contributed photo
Updated: October 14, 2012 1:17PM
Illinois is a friendly place for parents wishing to home school their children.
While some states require parents to provide authorities with test results or use a state-approved curriculum, Illinois leaves parents alone to decide what to teach, when to teach it — or whether to let the child’s curiosity lead the way, a philosophy known as “unschooling.”
The parent also is free to decide when a high-school-aged student has met the requirements for a diploma.
Under the state’s compulsory-attendance law parents may be asked to provide evidence that the child is being taught the same subjects as would be taught to public-school children of the same age.
Technically, a parent who isn’t offering age-appropriate instruction in the English language in six specific disciplines is in violation of the law.
“Parents have to make sure the curriculum being taught is in line with the state, and that the kids aren’t sitting at home watching cartoons and whatnot,” said Jason Ness, assistant principal of student services for Niles Township High Schools District 219.
The required “branches” of education are language arts, math, biology and physical science, social science, fine arts, and physical development and health.
How prevalent is home schooling in the suburbs? The state’s hands-off stance makes it difficult to keep good statistics. Parents aren’t required to register their schools, which the state views as private schools by virtue of a 1950 ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court.
While a voluntary form on the website says “please remember to register every September,” it also points out the exercise is voluntary.
Like most North Shore-area school districts interviewed for this story, Evanston/Skokie School District 65 and Evanston Township High School District 202 don’t keep statistics on the number of home-schooled students living within their districts.
“We don’t keep track of the number of families who home school because the state doesn’t require them to notify us,” said Pat Markham, communications director for District 65. “If home-schooled students want to participate in certain parts of the day or the curriculum, the families contact the district.”
At the school districts that do keep track, the number of home-schooled students is typically very low.
At District 219, zero students are being home schooled in the current 2012-13 school year, Ness reported.
“We usually have one or two students a year being home schooled, and haven’t seen any uptick in the numbers over the past five or six years,” Ness said.
District 219 offers a high-school connection to home-schooled students by extending access to all high-school programs, extracurricular activities, sports, and college and career resource counseling.
“A home-schooled student can still have a high-school connection by taking a class or two here during the day and then going home the rest of the day for home schooling,” Ness said. “A lot of times a student will want to take a fine-arts class or driver’s-education class at the school.”
At East Prairie District 73 in Skokie, there is one family with two children being home schooled for the 2012-13 school year, and the district doesn’t get involved with what is taught to those students, Superintendent James Schopp said.
“Once you say you’re going to be home schooled, the curriculum taught is the parent’s prerogative,” Schopp said.
According to the State Board of Education, only 684 home schools representing 810 children registered for the 2011-12 school year. Of the few parents that registered, 185 were from Cook County, while another 27 were from Lake County and 14 from McHenry County.
When the National Center for Education Statistics last reported on home-schooling in its 2009 Condition of Education report, the number of home-schooled students was pegged at 1.5 million students, or 2.9 percent of all children and teenagers between age 5 and 17. If the national ratio holds true for Illinois, the number of home-schooled children in the state would be closer to 66,800.
When asked their reasons for home-schooling, 36 percent of parents said the primary reason was to provide religious or moral instruction.
Another 21 percent were concerned about the school environment, while 17 percent were dissatisfied with the academic instruction in their local schools.
Regional school superintendents are charged with investigating reports that a family is in violation of the school attendance law. If the regional superintendent has evidence the home school isn’t in compliance, they can ask a truancy officer from the local school district to investigate. The district could take the parent to court. A parent found in violation of the compulsory-attendance law is guilty of a Class C misdemeanor.