Raleigh, N.C. — Lt. Gov. Dan Forest says the parents of students who are home-schooled should send government bureaucrats packing if they ask to visit.
Forest made the comments in a news release sent to reporters late Monday. He was reacting to a decision by the state's Division of Non-Public Education to select five home-schools at random for site visits this year. That announcement garnered attention from advocates in the home school community.
Some of those same advocates said Monday they had been told the school visits would not take place. They quoted an email from David Mills, director of the division, as saying, "It has come to my attention that the effort to make a small sampling of homeschool visits is not well understood by homeschoolers. Today, as of October 14, 2013, I do not plan to do any more after the initial five I have already contacted."
The division confirmed that post just before 6 p.m. Monday, issuing what it characterized as a "joint release" with the lieutenant governor's office.
"The Division of Non-Public Education (DNPE) and the Lt. Governor’s Office have conferred with regard to site visits of North Carolina home schools, and agree that it is the joint mission of DNPE and the Lt. Governor’s office to support NC’s home school families," read the release issued by Department of Administration spokesman Chris Mears. "As DNPE communicated to North Carolinians for Home Education, no site visits have been conducted and none are planned. DNPE’s review of home schools includes requesting home schools to voluntarily submit records via email or attend a meeting, typically held in a location such as a church basement, for records reviews. At that time, DNPE asks for review of test results, immunization records, and attendance records showing that schools have operated for nine months. DNPE is mandated to annually inspect records according to State law."
It's unclear why Forest issued his release if he and the division were in agreement so late in the day. However, at 4:26 p.m., Forest blasted the site-visit policy.
"This policy is intrusive, unnecessary, and has the potential to infringe on the constitutionally-protected privacy rights of tens of thousands of North Carolina home school families," Forest said.
As part of his release, Forest emphasized that families had the right to refuse "warrantless entry by government officials without probable cause into their homes." He also pledged to to get the legislature to pass a law forbidding such visits.
"Home School families should follow the law relating to the keeping of records and their lawful inspection, but should not be compelled to let any government official into their house. It is not necessary and people should reject it," Forest said.
The division that oversees home-schools is a part of the Department of Administration, overseen by Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican like Forest. It is not a part of the Department of Public Instruction, which oversees public schools and is run by State Superintendent June Atkinson, a Democrat.
The Division of Non-Public Instruction is primarily a record-keeping operation, ensuring that home-schools keep up with needed attendance and other record-keeping requirements. Typically, those records are gathered at third-party locations and at-home visits have not been a regular practice since the 1980s. According to home-school advocates, a recent letter from the division asked five of the more than 53,000 home schools in the state to spend 30 minutes with state officials.
According to the division, there were 53,347 home schools during the 2012-13 school year that educated 87,978 children. A home-school is defined as an educational environment where the child primarily gets instruction from a parent or guardian. A pair of families can combine to form a single home-school.
Asked what harm would be done if a parent consented to a site visit, Kami Mueller, a spokeswoman for Forest, said, "It's not a question of harm being done." Rather, she said, Forest was making sure people understood that they had the right to turn away searches by government officials who don't have a warrant.