RALEIGH, N.C.—North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest warned the state’s homeschoolers Monday to look out for—and oppose—“random homeschool searches” by state officials.
Forest’s statement caused a stir among the homeschool community because it brought to light a longstanding practice of inspections the Division of Non-Public Education’s (DNPE) left dormant for 20 years.
In North Carolina, homeschool parents must make attendance, immunization, and standardized test records available to state inspectors. Many homeschooling families believe that regulation, and the state’s plan to visit parents and children at home, conflicts with the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against warrantless searches.
“Homeschool families should follow the law relating to the keeping of records and their lawful inspection, but should not be compelled to let any government official into their house,” said Forest, whose wife Alice has homeschooled the couple’s four children for 15 years. “It is not necessary and people should reject it.”
Forest plans to push legislation to permanently keep DNPE records reviews outside the home.
On Tuesday, DNPE Director David Mills told me Forest’s accusations are unfair. Mills said he used to visit every homeschooling family, but growing numbers overwhelmed the state agency, leading inspectors to resort to mail or group visits in church basements. “I went to probably 10,000 or more homes visiting homeschools and just talking to them about their [records],” he said. “There never was any animosity that I remember.”
Despite Forest’s opposition, North Carolinians for Home Education didn’t take issue with Mills’ plans to renew visits, saying Oct. 2 the inspections demonstrated “that DNPE is actively serving North Carolina’s citizens.”
Mills told me he has some families call annually asking for him to come by, but conventional private schools have taken all his time: “There was no intent of harassment or trying to intimidate or anything like that. It was just trying to open up a rapport is all it was.”
He “had such a good rapport” with homeschoolers 20 years ago, he said he wanted to try again and increase his knowledge: “I could say firsthand, ‘No, I’ve been to the schools, and they have spoken with me and been free in their expression of what their philosophical idea of education is. And there’s no problem that I see.’”
But despite Mills’ history and expressed intentions, many homeschooling families don’t want a strengthened relationship with the state. Some called his office and said they looked forward to the visit, but others expressed distrust, Mills admitted. He told me that even before Forest’s comments, he had decided against going forward with the visits, describing parents’ reaction as a surprise: “I’ve been really a good advocate for homeschools all these 28 years.”
Forest could not be reached to explain his concern as a homeschool dad. But on Monday, he and the DNPE released a joint statement saying “no site visits have been conducted and none are planned.”
North Carolina remains friendly to homeschools despite having stricter regulations than some states. The state community of 53,000 homeschools is large and organized, with the grassroots power to kill educational policy it doesn’t agree with. In 2005, then-Gov. Mike Easley proposed placing private and homeschools under the Department of Public Instruction, but thousands of phone calls led the governor to quickly drop the proposal.
Nationally, Forest’s spat with the DNPE isn’t the first misunderstanding of sorts involving home visits this year. Earlier this summer, the Homeschool Legal Defense Association dispelled rumors that a home visits program in the Affordable Care Act was mandatory and potentially adversarial.