Following article excerpted from NO MORE PUBLIC SCHOOLS co-published by Random house Inc. This book is for people who:
don't like the public schools and think they have no alternative OR teach in public schools
OR are thinking about making their own school
OR have a school going and are looking for tools to continue, improve, or expand their operation
OR are curious members of the CIA, the State Department of Education, the PTA or other subversive organizations
My purpose is neither to romanticize nor to complain, but to make it possible for people with little or no previous experience to build realistic alternatives to the public school system.
How to Take Your Child Out of Public School
Compulsory Education means that your child must be in school. But there are a number of ways to take your child out of public school and avoid hassles with the authorities too. In the past few years parents have learned to do this in the following ways:
• take your child out of public school and tell the school authorities that you are moving to another state
• take your child out of public school and tell the school authorities that you are enrolling him in a private school
• never register your child in public school in the first place
• tell the authorities that you are starting a school of your own, then put together a school on paper only.
After you've taken your child out of public school you can:
• do nothing more
• educate your child at home yourself—or with a little help from your friends
• put your child in an existing private school
• make your own school with as many students and teachers as you want.
Laws in California and Elsewhere
Although my focus is on California laws, I will tell you as I go along how to get more specific information on laws in your own state. In many cases California is looser, in other cases it's tighter, than other states. For this reason, if no other, California law works well as a reference point from which to proceed, no matter what state you live in.
HERE'S HOW I DID IT
In California there are no official documents to sign to take your child out of public school. It does not matter, either, whether you take your child out in January or June or December. Why not take him out today?
Four days before I took my son out of school, I wrote this letter:
Dear . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ,
Beginning on (date), my child (name), will no longer be attending (name) School. At that time we plan to enroll him in a private school.
I sent off two copies, one to the principal of my child's school, the other to his teacher.
If you want to avoid hassles with the authorities, you'll do the same. Here's why:
When the school officials get the letter in their files, they can write DR in the column on their attendance records that asks "Reason for Nonattendance". DR means dropped.
As long as the student's name appears on the school records, teachers will ask questions: "I wonder what happened to Johnny? Illness? Moved away? Family problems? Maybe dead?" Your letter will put an end to these questions, and will prevent referral of your "case" to the truant officer. Remember, moving away, and attendance in a private school are both legitimate reasons to take your child out of public school.
Getting Local Information
If you are living in another state, or you want to check up on local policies for taking your child out of the public school, do this:
Telephone the district Superintendent of Schools. You will find his number listed in the telephone directory. Ask to talk with the person who handles "attendance records'". His title is usually "Attendance Supervisor".
Here's what you say:
"Hello, I'm (name), and my child is attending the (name) School. We are going to be sending our child to a private school in (date). Are there any particular forms which your office requires us to fill out when we take him out of the public schools?"
If it turns out that there are forms to fill out, ask where to get them and what you must do to process them. This kind of information is standard procedure, and they will be glad to assist you.
Don't Ever Give Them Your Name
In Paul Goodman's novel, THE GRAND PIANO, the hero, who systematically plays truant, says, "Don't ever give them your name. Once they get your name they own you."
If you were never to register your child in public school when he came to be kindergarten age, the school authorities would have no way of tracing you. Consider the thousands of children in parochial schools who have never registered with the public school authorities. You would be more or less free of school hassles forever if you did that.
I know of one family in San Francisco who simply never registered. The only problem they ran into occurred when they took the child to public places during school hours. Sometimes strangers, usually old ladies, came up and asked why the child was not in school. The mother developed a technique for putting them off. She whispered to the stranger, "Birth defects. They won't take her." This caused an embarrassed hush. But for those who pursued the question further, the mother was always quick to reply, "I'd rather not talk about it if you don't mind." It worked.
Taking Your Child Out of School the Wrong Way
Parents do get into trouble, for taking their children out of school. But I have never heard of a parent getting hassled after giving clear notification to the authorities that they were taking their child out of public school in order to put him in a private school, or because they were moving.
A friend of mine took her child out of the second grade, and did not say anything to the school authorities about why she was doing so. Two or three months later, she got a call from the teacher asking why the child was not in school. The mother answered that she would not send the child to school because the child was too bored by it. The teacher reported what the mother had said to the principal, and the principal called the parent in for a conference. The parent didn't go to the conference, and the juvenile authorities were notified. The juvenile authorities came to my friend's house and told her that what she was doing was illegal.
There were threats of legal actions, but nothing happened for several months. Finally a summons was served to my friend. Two weeks before her court appearance, she enrolled her child in a private school. In court she stated that she had enrolled her child in a private school, and the case was dropped. A month later she took her child out of private school, too, and never heard from the authorities again.
If you have already registered your child with the school people, consider moving to a different school district or a different town. First notify your present school that you are moving. Tell them that you're going to a different state, since they will want to transfer the child's records if your new address is close by. Then after you move don't register with the school in your new neighborhood. This is nearly as good as not registering in the first place.
You can, of course, tell them that you're moving away and then not move, just to get your child's name cleared. But then there's the chance that one of your child's old teachers will bump into you in the supermarket or somewhere and ask embarrassing questions. If you don't plan to move, it's better that you tell them your child is going to a private school. The explanations can come much easier, should you bump into your child's old teacher somewhere.
People Ask Questions
If your child is out on the streets during the school hours, he has a chance of being seen and stopped by curious school people: teachers on their way back to work from dental appointments, conscientious cops, social workers, and clergymen.
You should thus keep your child off the streets during school hours, or figure out a plan for dealing with all such eventualities. You can figure out things to tell the authorities when and if they ask you what you're doing. But before getting into all that remember that you will probably have to teach your child to lie and be deceitful. Ask yourself if you want this before you get wholly into it. Developing an elaborate defense will guarantee your own paranoia.
How to Pick a Private School
Now let's consider putting your child in an existing private school. There are two kinds of private schools to consider:
• approved private schools
• non-approved private schools.
An approved school is one that is duly registered with the authorities. A non-approved school is one which is not registered with the authorities: i.e., an underground school.
But remember, approval or non-approval of a school by the authorities will not determine that the school is or isn't a good place for children. There are bad approved schools just as there are good non-approved ones, and vice versa, of course.
In the eyes of the authorities, sending your child to an approved private school is just as acceptable as sending him to a public school. You will never tangle with the compulsory education laws if your child is enrolled in an approved private school.
The compulsory education laws do not specify which approved private school your child must attend. If you cannot find or afford a private school you will accept, or if you really don't care to try, you can set one up for yourself. That's what this book is about.
If you put your child in a non-approved school, do so with the knowledge that you are violating the compulsory education laws in the same way that you would be doing if you did not have your child in school at all. Depending on the community you live in, the authorities may do one or more of the following:
• avoid you so they won't have to do anything about you
• fine you
• slap a child neglect complaint on you, which can mean that they will assign a social worker or probation officer to your case in order to make certain that you educate your child in the "proper manner"
• just warn you.
Most likely, they'll do the latter. Rap with people in your community who have had experience with this, and find out what the specific risks will be.
Some people in California file the necessary papers with the state to become recognized as a private school. Then they do nothing more to meet state or local standards. If authorities ask where their children are, the paper school people say that they're in the process of putting together a private school—which is properly registered with the state—and the children are registered in that school. Most paper school people do keep attendance, since that's one of the big concerns of the public school people who come around to ask questions.
In California, all private schools which have once filed their papers with the state will receive renewal notices the following year. Paper school people who know they can't meet local or state standards send the renewal back with the comment that they've gone out of business.
Understand that the authorities will buy the idea that you are teaching your child at home, or elsewhere, while you put together your school. But they won't go along with it for much more than a year. So the paper school people have their friends file new papers, with new names for the new school year. With a dozen parents cooperating, you can get through all twelve grades this way.
The intent here is not always to evade the authorities, but to have a way of gathering resources for a legitimate school operation. It is a way of doing this in a leisurely fashion. More than one parent group began this way, and went on to bigger things. It's just one way of getting your kid out of public school immediately and doing so in a way that will protect you from clear-cut violations of the compulsory education laws.
With the above information, anyone who wants to take his child out of public school can do it tomorrow. You now have two important tools in your hands:
• how to take your child out of public school with absolute minimum hassle from the authorities
• how to obtain the protection of an "approved" private school for at least one year, in the form of the "paper" school.
All the methods here have been tried, and are working for others. There's no reason why they won't work for you.
Get Yourself Together
HUMAN RESOURCES COME FIRST
If you've got children, a roof over your head, a handful of friends, and can raise fifty dollars, you've got all you need to start a school. Children do not need buildings, and desks: and principals' offices in order to learn. Learning can take place anywhere, in living rooms, parks, storefronts, and out on the street. Libraries, museums, and man's natural as well as created environments provide all the educational resources you'll ever need.
* * *
Focus on human resources. The greatest human resource is interest, since that's what provides positive energy. Spend time with yourself figuring out how much and what kinds of energy you have to give. If your interests run toward the business end of the school, don't get hung up teaching. And if teaching turns you on, let someone else do the business stuff.
* * *
Trust your gut feelings at this point, and be cautious of anything that seems to come from the head. The brain is a good tool, but seldom accurate for getting in touch with your interests.
* * *
Teaching children, coping with laws and business procedures, and getting in touch with gut feelings probably won't seem very compatible at first, so take your time with it. Remember, moving with your deepest interests will open the way for a positive flow of energy.
* * *
Understand that you will have to deal simultaneously with:
• choosing a learning model, and establishing a curriculum for your child
• establishing the legality of your school
• conducting the business of the school
• relating to other parents, children, agencies, business types, and comrades.
The frequency, complexity, and depth of your involvement with the above ranges from about zero if you just pull your kid out of school, then do nothing, to maybe overwhelming if you try to establish a large free school right away.
* * *
If while you are doing all this planning you also have your child out of public school, remember that you will have to schedule time to spend with him.
* * *
Seek your own natural limits. Don't take on more responsibility than you can handle. Let other people share the load, or cut back your conception until it fits your natural limits.
You'll need to familiarize yourself with the Compulsory Education Laws and with that section of your state's Education Code which deals with private education. The relationship between these two areas of law is relatively simple, explained as follows:
Although the Compulsory Education Laws generally state that all children between the ages of six and sixteen must attend a full-time day school, they do not specify which school the child must attend. You can satisfy the requirements of the law by having your child in a private school which meets the standards specified for private schools in the State Education Code.
So your first step will be to go to the nearest big city library and study exactly what your State Education Code says. The State code books are available to the public, and can be gotten at the reference desk of the bigger libraries. Ask to see the Education Codes, then study the index, tracing down anything that has "private school" or "private education" as part of its title. If you prefer, write to your State Department of Education and ask them to tell you what you must do to establish an approved private school. Do your letter like this:
State Department of Education
Capitol City, Your State
A group of parents and educators, of which I am one, are in the process of exploring the possibilities of setting up a private school for children between the ages of six and sixteen.
Could you send us, or direct us to, sections of the State Education Code which contain laws or guidelines pertaining to the establishment and maintenance of private schools? We would also like to receive whatever forms and documents we must fill out to be duly registered with you as an approved institution. We thank you for your assistance.
My experience with the bureaucracy has been that if you are specific and talk their language, you'll get what you need. I sent three letters to the same office before I got everything that I needed from the State Department of Education in California. The first letter got me a reply directing me to the State Education Code. The second letter got me a printed summary of the private education section of the state code. The third letter got me duplicates of what they'd already sent me plus a set of the forms and documents necessary for registering our school with them. Conclusion? Use the third letter, which is the one printed above. Copy it verbatim, changing only names and addresses as necessary. The letter should be neatly typed. Call the Superintendent of Schools in your town to get the proper address and titles in your state.
All these details may begin to sound nit-picky, and I agree with you. that they are. But remember, the less energy spent hassling with the authorities, the more energy you will have for the more important business of running the school.
If you really want to keep your operation small, say five to eight children, or even if you plan to teach your own child at home, this information will be important to you. Knowing what the law says—which is what you learn by reading the education code—will be a valuable tool if and when you have to deal with the authorities. It will tell you what questions they are likely to ask, and thus arm you with acceptable answers.
Filling Out an Affidavit
One thing you'll probably have to do is fill out something called a "Private School Affidavit". This affidavit is the foundation of your school . . . without it you have nothing as far as the authorities are concerned. If you start operating a school and you fail to file the affidavit, you will not be an "approved" school, and can be found in violation of the compulsory education laws.
Once you file your Private School Affidavit, you may or may not hear from the school authorities again. In California, if you do, they will be interested in the following:
• the names, addresses, and educational qualifications of each faculty member
• attendance records on each student
• the courses of study offered.
You will need to keep these records together and handy, but in the meantime, you've done all you have to do to get started.