- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2004

PITTSBURGH - On any given school day, the five Newborn children might be studying statistics at a local college, learning Spanish from a tutor or watching a procedure at a veterinarian’s office.

It is part of a curriculum set by their parents, who home-school their children because they consider it a calling from God. It all must be documented carefully in a report each year to the local superintendent.

In cases being watched closely by home-schooling advocates across the country, the Newborns and a second Pennsylvania family have filed lawsuits under the state Religious Freedom Protection Act challenging the state’s home-school reporting requirements.

The act allows people to challenge any laws they believe impose “substantial burdens upon the free exercise of religion without compelling justification.” Similar statutes were passed in 11 other states after a federal religious-freedoms law was declared unconstitutional in 1997.

“God is in our math, God is in our science, God is in our history. Yet we have to submit to a government agent for approval,” Maryalice Newborn said.

In Pennsylvania, about 25,000 students are home-schooled. Nationally, the number has reached nearly 1 million and is rising, the U.S. Department of Education reports.

Pennsylvania’s home-schooling regulations are among the most stringent in the nation and require detailed record-keeping.

Darren Jones, staff lawyer for the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association, who is involved both cases, said parents who home-school their children tend to be religious and have many children, making reporting requirements more cumbersome.

“We have no problem with some sort of registration … but the fact is these are parents who are trying to do what’s best for their kids,” Mr. Jones said.

State law requires home-schooling parents to submit notarized affidavits at the beginning of each school year for children 8 and older about what they plan to teach. Parents also are required to submit medical information about their children and attest that they have never been convicted of crimes. The parents keep a log and chart their children’s progress in preparation for an end-of-year report signed off by a third party that must be submitted to school superintendents.

Mrs. Newborn said she and her husband have submitted the paperwork each year. But after 2002, they wrote a letter to the school district telling them that requiring them to file the paperwork was discriminatory and violated their religious beliefs. The school district charged the Newborns with truancy.

Officials with the Franklin Regional School District didn’t return a call last week.

In the second case, 250 miles away near Philadelphia, Thomas and Babette Hankin sued the Bristol Township School District. The couple, who live in Croyden, have been home-schooling their seven children for about 10 years and never have filed anything with school officials.

The district found out last year after someone contacted a social-services agency.

“This is what God has called us to do. This is the parents’ job,” Mrs. Hankin said. “We believe it’s the parents’ job to raise and educate their children.”

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