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7/2/2014 - July 2014 SLI Educational Update - Regulation of Nonpublic K-12 Schools in Alabama

AN EDUCATIONAL UPDATE FROM

THE SOUTHEAST LAW INSTITUTE™, INC.

 To:                  SLI Supporters                                  

 Date:               July 2014  

 From:              A. Eric Johnston

 Re:                  Regulation of Nonpublic K-12 Schools in Alabama

             We have provided continuing reports on the issue of the Alabama State Department of Education’s (“DOE”) effort to regulate nonpublic education.  The issue began in the spring of 2013 when DOE issued Gestapo type orders to truancy officers concerning children in nonpublic schools.  In June 2013, DOE directed nonpublic schools, strongly including church schools, to attend July meetings at DOE for the purpose of understanding new regulations.  DOE attempted to pass emergency regulations without notice to anyone, by the state school board, which was discovered and stopped.  As a result, both DOE and nonpublic schools decided legislation was the best way to address the problem.

             DOE and nonpublic schools, including secular private schools, church schools, parochial schools and home schools, were not all of one mind, but worked together.  Senator Dick Brewbaker, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, did a good job spearheading the effort and bringing parties together.  He introduced SB38, now Act # 2014-245, as an amendment to existing law which solved most, but not all of our problems, in part, as follows:

 -        The Legislature finds a constitutional right of parents to choose K-12 education, public or nonpublic, religious or nonreligious, including home schools.  The state has no authority whatever to regulate any nonpublic school.

 -        While a parent may choose nonpublic unregulated education, he or she may decide to identify with the state for participation in various programs, but may withdraw at will without penalty.

 -        All nonpublic schools must comply with attendance reporting and criminal background checks.  These were already required of nonpublic schools, including church schools.  The process of this has not changed.  However, there is a glitch in the bill that requires homeschoolers to have background checks.    That is an oversight with which we do not expect to have problems, but should be corrected next year. 

 -        All nonpublic schools, except church schools, must register annually with the state giving the number of students and instructors, enrollment, course of study, length of term, cost of tuition, funds, value of property and the general condition of the school.  This remains unchanged from prior law, although it appears DOE was not enforcing this and many schools were not complying.  We understand, non-church nonpublic schools do not have a problem with this reporting. 

 -        In several places in the law, home schools are now recognized.  They have never been recognized in the past.  They must still operate under the “cover” of a secular or church nonpublic school.  Nothing precludes parents from having a standalone home school, to which they may be constitutionally entitled, but that issue has not been settled in Alabama and there are conflicting court decisions around the country.

-        A student who graduates from a nonpublic school, including a home school, may not be denied admittance to any public two or four year institution. 

 -        A teacher in any nonpublic school may retain his or her state accreditation, for so long as he or she otherwise meets requirements.

 -        Any nonpublic school that participates in the Alabama High School Athletic Association must comply with its requirements.

 HB546 (Henry) and SB420 (Brewbaker) were filed.  Neither version passed.  This bill permitted any nonpublic school to “identify” with DOE, i.e., let DOE know the name and location of the school, but no regulatory authority.  It permitted nonpublic schools to be a part of programs like “Child Find,” a federal program meant to help disabled students; students transferring from nonpublic into public schools do so on the same basis as public to public schools; students may enter the Alabama Fire College or any police academy, which is now prohibited. 

 SB38 provides significant protection to nonpublic education and, in particular, church and home schools.  Prior law exempted church schools from certain regulation, but never specifically stated the exemption and recognized it in as detailed a manner as the law does now.  There is no problem with a threat to religious freedom for a school identifying with the state in order to cooperate on a peer level.  If nonpublic school students are to excel and avoid discrimination, some further adjustments to our laws need to be made.  The above summary should give our readers adequate information to understand the basics of the new law.  However, for those who need more detailed information, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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