The Chairman opened the floor for the public forum. The board has had numerous Registration to Address the Board forms turned in. The Chairman called on each person in no particular order.
The following is an overview of the presentations made to the board members. The presentations were recorded in their entirety and can be found on the district web site.
T. J. Liebmann, said he was presenting based on his experience after receiving a letter from the district referencing F.S. 1002.41 which stated the consequences of non-compliance. The letter
produced an atmosphere of fear.
Mr. Jesse Liebmann explained he is a parent who has home schooled his children in five different states and has had no problem abiding with the laws and rules. He feels the letter he received from the home school department was bullying and discriminatory.
Katherine Tedder thanked the board for allowing her to speak. She has home schooled her children for about 10 years and believes we are a nation of laws and rules. She feels the county has taken it upon themselves to add other rules to Florida Statute and she feels they do not have the authority to do so.
Kym Valk came forward and complimented Ms. Moore for staying late and helping her get her paperwork ready when she moved to this district. She feels the district went above and beyond to help her with her home schooling. However, her bubble was popped when her neighbor received the threatening letter from the district and she would hate to see the relationship between the district and home school parents determinate.
Caleb Nimmo said the letter home school parents received has created an atmosphere of fear and he would like to suggest that when the district sends out letters we remember we are dealing with people.
Salinda Woolstenhulme stated that she has had a very positive experience dealing with the district and would like that to continue. She felt perhaps the letter was not meant to come across as threatening.
Jennifer Baxter shared with the board that she is brand new to the Santa Rosa County School District. Her family chose Santa Rosa County because they heard that it was a good system and she would have options. Her family moved three times in one year and she feels home schooling them is better than transferring from one school to another. She hopes everyone can clear up the issue and have a sense of community again.
Jacqueline Rogers has home schooled her children for 21 years and loves it. She has a couple of children in Dual Enrollment classes and a son in medical school, all are doing well. She feels the intent of the letter was not how it came across. Most parents take home schooling very serious. She has home schooled long enough that she has actually seen parents who face charges and have had their children taken away. She shared that she doesn't feel the district has the authority to add requirements such as addresses and social security numbers to the Florida statues. She suggested perhaps the district could put together an advisory committee with home school parents working together.
Aaron Hayek explained he and his business moved to Santa Rosa County from Mississippi because Florida has different standards for home schooling. He stated he has had great experiences with enrolling his children but noticed that when he tried to enroll his kindergartner, he was asked for proof of residency. At first the Home School office would not accept his Florida Driver’s License as proof of residency. Eventually they did but he wasn't aware at the time this was a new requirement of the district.
Wesley Tucker thanked the district for educating him. He mentioned Mr. Wyrosdick and Mr. Emerson both taught him when he was a student. He told a story about Mr. Johnson calling him about some surplus student chairs he might want for his home school setup. People here have blessed his life. He isn't sure what happened to make the district send out letters with threats on them. He feels it was a mistake and could be considered government overreach on a local level. He stated the information the district requested is reasonable but if it is not lawful, we shouldn't do it. He thanked the families who attended tonight's board meeting.
Colby Brown has the privilege of serving as the Vice-President of the West Florida Home Education Support League. The WFHEP represent approximately 250 to 300 families in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties. They have a new member workshop to take each parent through the legal requirements of home schooling and he finds most of them have a spirit of obeying the laws as long as they aren't forced. He is here this evening to show their support for the families and wants to encourage the relationship between private, public and home schools.
Stephen Pitre thanked the board for allowing him to speak. He stated he had a pretty good relationship with the district until he received the letter threatening criminal action due to not providing proof of residency. When you have this many people attending a board meeting something has gone off the rails. He explained that parents home school their children for different reasons but some of the most important are not dealing with things like pantsing, saying the pledge or taking part in prayer or taking tests. He hasn't seen any difference between home schooled and public educated children and mentioned several famous people who were home schooled. His request is to not make their jobs any more difficult than it already is.
T. J. Schmidt, Chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association thanked the board for allowing him to speak. Santa Rosa County has always been very open and cooperative with families who establish a home school within the county they reside. The law is very clear about what is required and has been in existence over 20 years. Something happened and letters were sent out beginning with the 2015-16 school year, requesting information about residency, race, social security etc., that have not previously been required. The Home School Legal Defense Association sent the district a letter clearing up what the requirements were, unfortunately about a month later, letters were sent out giving parents 3 days to enroll their children in public or private school and terminating their home school program. The letters were threatening and alarming. The state law hasn't changed, no home school rules have changed. A second letter went out that required signatures upon receipt. When the district received those back, they had the proof they needed to establish residency within the district. Mr. Schmidt asked the board for three things: first, reaffirm their commitment to follow State Law; second, acknowledge no further threats and third, when there is a major change in policy, ask for home school parents to be a part of it before threatening criminal prosecution.
Ron McCurdy shared with the board his appreciation for their time. He was born and raised in this area, and has home schooled his children for 21 years. Three of his children earned their AA degree via dual enrollment classes and his oldest son entered law school at 19 years old. They have all been successful. From 2003 - 2010, he was the State Home School Director for the panhandle area. He had to learn the law and requirements of home schooling and was a liaison with about 10 different counties. He stated he only had problems with Escambia County about abiding by the law. The person in charge at that time made a comment to him that every student they take out of the district to home school, the district is losing $4,500. To him, it was all about the money. Mr. McCurdy doesn't feel it is about the money here, but the district cannot add anything to the law.
Anna Gibson thanked the board and stated she is a home schooling mother and is a home school evaluator. This has given her the opportunity to see the wonderful work being done by the parents of children in home school programs. The parents have a lot of freedom to do what they want and customize the programs to fit the needs of their children. She stated the district has always been helpful when she needed resources and she has always had a good relationship with the district. The other parents that have spoken have made their issue very clear and she urges the district to do all they can to support the home school program.
Rachelle Harris has home schooled her children in three different states. Her son is a welder on the Alaska pipeline and her daughter is a student at the University of West Florida, both are doing well and loved being home schooled. She still has other children at home doesn’t want things to get messed up. She is asking the district not to add anything to the current laws and rules.
Mr. Winkles said that completed all the written requests to speak he received. He asked if
anyone else wanted to speak to the board. No one responded and he gave the floor to the Superintendent who had a statement he wanted to read to the audience.
"Santa Rosa County supports parents who choose to use home school as an avenue for educating their children. We do so understanding the vast majority of parents are solid parents of Santa Rosa County and have great intentions to provide the best education possible for their children and believe this is the best alternative for seeing a quality education. I, personally, support a parents desire to educate their child and applaud their efforts. As a school system, we have no intent, nor have we ever had any intent to eliminate or criminal students who are home schooled. This belief is the result of some very creative writing by several organizations. The truth is nearly 1000 students in Santa Rosa are home schooled each and every day and have done so in compliance with our regulations. Of late, this includes providing proof of residency and this requirement is commensurate with other school districts in Northwest Florida.
Santa Rosa Schools only intent is to comply with State Law and manage the resources the citizens of Santa Rosa County have provided to the school district. The question posed is why would a school district request proof of residency? In short, as Superintendent of Schools, I am responsible for the education of students residing in Santa Rosa County. I cannot affect policy nor educational programs in any other school district. Students residing in other counties, states or countries are not subjected to the actions of this board or this Superintendent and taking action on students residing in other school districts is not under our authority. The law clearly intends, even in home school programs, students receive services in the county they reside.
Chapter 1002.47 in Florida law paragraph (a) reads, "The parent shall notify the district school superintendent of the county in which the parent resides of her or his intent to establish and maintain a home education program. The notice shall be in writing, signed by the parent, and shall include the name, addresses and birthday of all children who shall be enrolled as students in the home education program." Later in that same chapter of Florida law it requires the Superintendent (or his/her designee) to evaluate each home school student's portfolio. "The district school superintendent shall review and accept the results of the annual educational evaluation of a student in the home education program." It later shares, "Continuation in a home education program shall be contingent upon a student demonstrating educational progress commensurate with her or his ability..." We provide a review of each student's portfolio and determine if a child is making appropriate educational progress. We do this for the students of Santa Rosa County, not for every student in every district. Students who reside in other school districts are subject to policies relative to that school district. Failure to provide an appropriate education for a child requires a school superintendent to report students who are not provided an education to Truancy Court. This is Florida law, not a policy or procedure adopted by this board or an administrative procedure established by the Superintendent (F.S. 1003.27(a)).
Residing in Santa Rosa County and registering with the home school office provides benefits to home school students. These benefits are supported through tax dollars paid in Santa Rosa County. These benefits include: 1. Participation in dual enrollment (F.S. 1002.47). 2. Florida Virtual School (F.S. 1002.47). 3. Participate in Bright Futures Scholarship program (a scholarship program sponsored by the State of Florida intended for Florida residents. (F.S. 1002.47). 4. Home Education students are eligible for admission to the Florida College system. (F.S. 1002.47). 5. Home education students are eligible for admission to state universities (F.S. 1002.47). 6. Interscholastic extracurricular student activities such as Band and Athletics (F.S. 1006.15 and F.S. 1002.47). 7. Additionally, the school board allocates personnel to manage home school programs.
These benefits are an expense to citizens of Santa Rosa County. It remains my premise taxes paid in Santa Rosa County are intended to educate students in Santa Rosa County. As a custodian of the financial resources of Santa Rosa District Schools, I am charged with making certain our dollars are spent on our students, not students living in another county, another state or even another country. Tax paying residents of this County should not fund students who are not living in Santa Rosa County. It is clear from the law residency is important for providing these services.
The letter that Mr. Schmidt speak of regarding "prosecution" is taken directly from Florida law which charges the school superintendent with documenting students attend school. It is important to note, our letter to parents sharing Florida Statute regarding criminal prosecution was sent only after 2 previous letters requesting proof of residency were ignored. F.S. 1003.27 paragraph (a) reads, "in each case of non-enrollment or non-attendance upon the part of a student who is required to attend some school, when no valid reason for such non-enrollment or non-attendance is found, the district school superintendent shall institute a criminal prosecution against the student's parents." This is not our idea, but Florida law and is the governing protocol for any student in Santa Rosa County. Failure to enroll a student in a school or to comply with the regulations concerning home school enrollment declares a student to be "nonenrolled" and subject to criminal penalties by law. We do this to protect students as on more than one occasion, we have intervened in the life of a child because a parent was negligent. I reiterate, this is Florida Law. Without a proof of residency, we cannot determine a parent's declaration to home school or progress report of a student is compliant with Florida law. Sadly, we have had to invoke this statute while dealing with parents who declare an intent to home school and never provide any educational services to the student. Fortunately this comprises a fraction of home school students. But nonetheless, is a reason for Santa Rosa District Schools to request residency to make certain we are referring our citizens to our courts.
We continue to develop great relationships with our Home School parents. The vast majority are very satisfied with the process and readily comply with all regulations. The following are some salient points concerning the status of parents who afford themselves of Home School opportunities.
Residency was included in our Student Progression Plan only because of our discovery of several individuals registering fraudulently. We have discovered families requesting to enter our home school programs from out of county, out of state and even out of country. I can only surmise parents fraudulently register to take advantage of the benefits I described earlier.
Currently, all intents to establish a home education program have been processed with the exception of 1. This individual provided an address that is matched to a vacant lot with no residency. It is obvious they do not live there.
All 18 families included in the original set of notifications are now in compliance including demonstrating residency. Some provided a power bill, water bill, or some other documentation demonstrating they actually reside at the address provided. The only issue that could prevent an intent form being processed is residency. All other reasons are non-existent.
The vast majority of our parents understand and respect the requirement of providing proof of residency.
In closing, Santa Rosa District Schools remains committed to providing the best education possible for every student; this would include students who avail themselves of home school opportunities. My promise to the citizens of Santa Rosa County is to continue to protect the resources allocated for Santa Rosa County students. Maintaining appropriate management of resources provided by our very supportive community is fiscally sound and morally right."
Dr. Scott asked if she could see a copy of the letter. She said unfortunately, when a change comes out there is a ripple effect. She recognizes the value of home schooling and the contribution they make to our community. The people here are not representative of the citizens who have caused this problem. Mrs. Granse said she even received a threatening letter from a home school parent that lives in Leesburg County.
An unidentified gentleman in the doorway of the boardroom asked "what will we ask for next time" and said the perception is home schoolers are valued less. He also thought the lady's tone and the way she talked to his wife was uncalled for and needs to be addressed.
Mr. Winkles told everyone we would look into this, however verifying student addresses and proof of residency is not something the district asks for only from home school parents. We have to make sure of residency when enrolling students in schools and athletic programs to make sure they live within the defined areas of that school zone. He wishes we could take parents word for it when they give us an address but that just isn't realigic.
Mr. Winkles closed the public forum.