Sunday, November 9, 2008

One of the issues home-schooling parents have to address once their children become teenagers is work. Obviously, many home-school parents see the value of work for young people, instilling in them good character and individual responsibility.

The federal government and the various states take a heightened interest in the issue of work for minors. Child labor laws were passed around the turn of the century by most states and the federal government to address abuses of children by employers. Children younger than 18 generally are restricted as to the number of hours and times they can be employed.

Generally, young people must have permits to work, and this is where it can become a little tricky for the home-school parent. Almost universally, work permits are issued by the public school district where the child resides.

One exception generally recognized by the states is when the child is working for the parents, guardians or other persons standing in the place of the parents. The work done by the minors must be under the control of the parent or guardian and must be performed upon or in connection with the premises owned, operated or controlled by the parent or guardian. The obvious industry or work that comes to mind is when the family owns or operates a farm.

One of the major issues home-school parents deal with is whether their children can work during public school hours. Because of the flexible nature and individualized instruction of a home-school program, home-schooling easily can accommodate an unconventional schedule. The answer depends upon the state, but typically a child younger than 16 cannot work during school hours unless enrolled in a school-administered work experience program.

This would not normally be a problem for home-school children as they simply could work when the home-school is not in session, which could be out of session much earlier than when a typical public school concludes its school day.

However, this is where the conflict can begin, because typically the superintendent of the school district where the child resides is the one who issues the work permits to the minor. The superintendent or his designee may be resistant to issuing the permit to work for hours when the public school is in session.

In some states, such as California, public school superintendents and their designees have refused to issue work permits to home-school students for different reasons. Prior to the recent California Court of Appeals case finding that home-schooling is legal via the private school exemption, some school superintendents refused to issue work permits on the grounds that the student was not enrolled in a “legitimate” school and therefore not entitled to receive a work permit. This raises a significant problem for the home-school child because the California statute dealing with work permits indicates that the school superintendent “may” (or may not) issue the work permit.

Despite several legislative efforts to expand the issuance of work permits from the public school to the private school, home-schoolers in California are still faced with the ominous task of seeking a work permit from a public school superintendent who may not be favorable to home-schooling and who simply can deny the permit based upon this opposition. However, there should be no legal justification for failing to issue a work permit, assuming that the request is properly filled and otherwise meets all the requirements of the statute or law within the state. This constitutes unjustifiable violation of a very important right.

The good news is that less hostility exists now between the home-school community and the public school establishment over work permits. More and more permits are being issued, and unless the home-school child is actually truant or doesn’t satisfy the requirements for a work permit, home-school children across the country should be able to work outside their home on an equal footing with their public school counterparts.

Persistence is many times what it takes to prevail on this issue and the home-school community is certainly good at that as demonstrated by the tremendous freedoms home-schoolers have gained over the last 25 years.

Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at 540/338-5600; or send e-mail to

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