School Health Requirements’ Homeschooling Loophole
For Immediate Release: Group warns that vaccine exemptions for homeschooled children lead to troubling results
Canton, Ma., 11/12/2019—After lawmakers in New York passed a bill requiring all children who attend school to be vaccinated unless they have a valid medical exemption, the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), a group founded by homeschool alumni to advocate for homeschooled children, saw a steep uptick in queries about homeschooling. “Parents began contacting us to ask whether the new law applied to homeschooled children,” says Dr. Rachel Coleman, executive director of CRHE. “Some of these parents said they did not want to homeschool, but felt it was their only option,” said Coleman. “In some cases it was clear to us that these parents did not have the educational background needed to homeschool effectively.”
New York state’s new immunization requirements, Coleman says, do indeed exempt homeschooled children, making homeschooling an effective loophole for vaccine–hesitant parents. This puts New York out of step with the roughly half of all states that require homeschooled children to meet the same immunization requirements as other children.
“Homeschooling is an educational choice. It was never intended to serve as a means of avoiding school health requirements,” Coleman cautions. “Homeschooled children should have access to the same level of healthcare as other children.” This is not currently the case in many states, Coleman says. She points to cases of medical neglect where health conditions that would have been recognized by a school nurse or a medical doctor have instead gone unnoticed in homeschool settings. “While requirements vary from state to state, children who attend school are required to have a physical exam or wellness visit in certain grades,” said Coleman. “Homeschooled children should have this same access.”
Coleman voiced concerns that parents who homeschool to avoid school health requirements may not be taking their children’s educational best interests into account. “Homeschooling is a lot of work,” Coleman notes. She says parents should homeschool only if they have a genuine interest in providing their children with an education at home. “Parents who have not freely chosen to homeschool their children, and are only doing so to avoid school health requirements, are probably not best suited to homeschool their children,” she says. “Everyone loses.”
Coleman points to an article in The Daily Gazette, published in Schenectady, New York, to illustrate her concerns. In that article, reporter Zachary Matson speaks with a woman who withdrew her three children from school to homeschool them in order to avoid the state’s medical requirements, even though both she and her husband work full time. The couple’s 13-year-old daughter is providing childcare for her 10-year-old brother and 5-year-old sister and supervising their schoolwork while their parents work. “We do not recommend homeschooling unless parents can arrange for full-time supervision and guidance of their children’s education,” said Coleman. “Children deserve to have their education prioritized.”
CRHE does not take a position on specific medical requirements. Instead, the organization recommends applying school health requirements mandated by the state to all children of school age, rather than only those who attend school. “Our goal is to ensure that families who homeschool do so because they have a genuine interest in educating their children at home,” says Coleman. “Our priority is to support children and families.”
The Coalition for Responsible Home Education is a national organization founded by homeschool alumni and dedicated to raising awareness of the need for homeschooling reform, providing public policy guidance, and advocating for responsible home education practices.