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Will the Next School Year in Michigan Involve Homeschooling?

BY IN Custody

Can a Parent Continue Homeschooling for the 2020-2021 School Year?

With the current stay at home orders in place, Michigan parents have all become homeschoolers.  Some enjoy it more than others.  Some are more successful than others.  Some parents see significant benefits, and now that they have made the jump to homeschooling, they want to continue homeschooling when schools are back in session.  But what about divorced or separated parents, can they make such a change?

When parents divorce or separate, a judge will decide a physical custody and visitation arrangement if the parents cannot reach an agreement. The judge will also determine which parent will receive legal custody or if the parents should share legal custody.

Understanding School Choice in Michigan

When parents share legal custody of their children, they have a right to jointly make major decisions regarding the children’s medical care, school, and extracurricular activities.   When one parent wants to change schools, such as a school district change, from a public to a private school, or from a day school to a homeschooling program, the parent will need to obtain the other parent’s agreement or the judge’s permission.

To obtain the other parent’s agreement could be quite painless, but we see some common mistakes.  The first step to get the other parent’s permission is to contact them and have a discussion and reach an agreement. 

The Homeschooling Option

To increase the chance of an agreement, a parent should research the options.  For example, what homeschool curriculum do you propose using?  Will you join a homeschooling support group?  Do you have a plan in place when you are unable to teach the required curriculum, such as an online class?  Has your child done well with homeschooling up until now?

When the other parent agrees to continued homeschooling, the second step is to have an attorney draft a Stipulated Order.  Often parents rely on the verbal agreement, but later learn that there was a misunderstanding, or the other parent changed his/her mind over time.  A Stipulated Order will ensure that you have a binding order that can be enforced.

If the other parent will not agree to homeschool or your relationship has been acrimonious, preventing a reasonable discussion, you will need to obtain permission from the court.  The judge will review the two proposed school options:  homeschooling and the other parent’s choice – which likely will be the child’s current school, and the judge will review the best interest factors.   This hearing is commonly called a Lombardo hearing.

Historically, the homeschooling parent has an uphill battle.  The public or private school has a track record that can be introduced as evidence.  The parent who wants to homeschool will offer that he/she will do the best job possible, but there is no track record.   Additionally, any track record that the parent established this spring is subjective because it is the parent who graded the child’s projects. Opponents of homeschooling may argue that it will take a year or more before a lack of progress can be established.  Homeschooling could create greater strive when the homeschooling parent makes additional decisions such as which field trips to take, which course the student will take, and which homeschool curriculum to follow.  If the homeschooling parent had been lax with bringing the child to school on time, finishing homework on time, you should expect that such testimony will be presented during a trial.

When deciding issues, the judge will try to provide the child with as much stability as possible, and a judge will usually avoid a trial based change of school.  With the current stay-at-home order, the homeschooling parent has overcome that hurdle.  After a few months at home, without field trips and most social outings, the judge can consider testimony how well the child has been doing (or not) outside the traditional school environment. 

If you are considering homeschooling or anticipate such a request, you should contact the Grand Rapids child custody attorneys at Kraayeveld Law at 616-285-0808 and as soon as possible to have a hearing sometime this summer before the start of the next school year.