Meet the Homeschoolers

An increasing number of Hawaii families are choosing to educate their children at home. We spoke with three of them to learn more about the realities of homeschooling.


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The state of homeschooling in Hawaii

When it comes to legal requirements for homeschooling, Hawai‘i turns out to be one of the more relaxed states in the U.S. None of the parents we spoke with had run into any hassles from the DOE about their choice to homeschool and, by all accounts, the state takes a hands-off approach to the entire issue.

But while the state DOE doesn’t hamper the efforts of homeschooling families, neither does it extend many resources to them. Hawai‘i is not one of the 18 states that require public schools to allow homeschoolers access to classes or sports.

However, this may change in the near future. DOE superintendent Pat Hamamoto testified in support of a bill introduced during the last legislative session (SB 2476) that would have given homeschool students the option to participate in sports, cheerleading, music, band, school clubs and other programs. The measure managed to pass the Education Committee, but died in the Finance Committee and has been carried over to the 2010 legislative session.

While the DOE has gotten behind it, the bill is not universally supported by Hawai‘i homeschoolers. June Mather, secretary of the Christian Homeschoolers of Hawai‘i (CHOH), says their organization prefers a clear divide between public school students and homeschooled ones. “Many of us prefer not to get into something like this, because it means that homeschool student’s records would have to be under scrutiny [for eligibility purposes],” she says. “We want as much freedom as possible in how we teach our children.”

Another issue that the CHOH has been concerned about, but hasn’t chosen to officially tackle, has been the fact that the DOE will not recognize high school credits from any homeschool program. There are a couple impacts of this policy: A homeschool student transferring to a local public high school would have to enroll as a freshman, even if he or she would normally be a junior or senior. And because homeschool high schoolers don’t get a diploma, they can’t apply to attend UH Mānoa without also earning a GED, or accruing at least 24 transferable credits at a UH community college. “It’s a roadblock for many students, because there’s still this stigma about the GED,” Mather says. “It takes time to earn the GED, and it’s not a reflection of four years of high school, so it’s a funny rule.”

Stacey Roberts, an associate professor at the UH College of Education, who did her dissertation on homeschooling and has followed the subject for years, contends that the DOE is actually too lax when it comes to policing families who homeschool. “The state has a compelling interest in the education of all children,” she says. “You can’t just say, if you’ve got a 4140 form to homeschool, you’re not our problem anymore. Which they basically do here in Hawai‘i, but they really shouldn’t.”

Roberts says that, because it’s up to each school to keep track of the students, because record keeping can be idiosyncratic, it’s easy for a homeschooled student to fall off the radar. “For the 7,000 that the DOE thinks are there, I’d say there are another couple of thousand at least that they don’t know about,” she says. Roberts says she has several personal friends who failed to notify the DOE of their plans to homeschool, without repercussion.

There are guidelines in place if a school principal has concerns about how a student is progressing. “A principal can start educational neglect proceedings if they think the student’s not getting any kind of education,” says Anna Viggiano, education specialist for the DOE’s gifted and talented program. “Then it would go to child protective services. It’s a long process, they have to document everything, but you could, in extreme cases, actually have a child taken away.”

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