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Headline Obscures Meaning of Supreme Court Action

To the Editor:

Your Nov. 13, 1996, issue contains an article entitled "High Court Affirms Rejection of Miss. Prayer Law."

Although I generally find your publication to be accurate as well as up to date, the reminder that U.S. Supreme Court denials of certiorari are not at all affirmances bears repeating here. As I stated in a letter to the editor a few years ago and as repeated elsewhere, denials of certiorari convey no decision upon the merits of the case; the high court is merely exercising its discretion not to affirm, reverse, or otherwise review the lower court's ruling.

In light of the misleading headline, the opening statements in the article that the "Supreme Court refused ... to revive a 1994 Mississippi law that authorized 'voluntary' student prayer" and that the "high court let stand without comment rulings from lower federal courts that found this law unconstitutional" are susceptible to an erroneous interpretation. Although the article adds some clarification in the middle of the text, many busy readers may stop at the title or the opening paragraphs of the article, thus being subject to an inaccurate impression of this important issue.

The editors of Education Week have a responsibility to maintain their well-established high standards of informational integrity as well as interest.

Perry A. Zirkel
Professor of Education and Law
Lehigh University
Bethlehem, Pa.

In Cities, Magnet Schools Are the Most Integrated

To the Editor:

Despite your finding that districts failed to meet their desegregation goals under the Magnet Schools Assistance Act ("Magnets' Value in Desegregating Schools Is Found To Be Limited,"Nov. 13, 1996), it is possible to travel from city to city all over this country and find that the magnet schools in most cases are the only schools that are racially integrated. The test scores produced by magnet schools are also the most successful.

Donald R. Waldrip
Executive Director
Magnet Schools of America
Houston, Texas

Maryland Home-School Form and 'Impossible Demands'

To the Editor:

I'm sorry you weren't able to reach me for comment regarding my court case, which was reported in "Woman in Md. Home-School Case Acquitted," (Oct. 30, 1996). I hope you will allow me to respond to the story.

You quote Gary Cox of the Maryland Association of Christian Home Educators as saying that Maryland is one of the top five states in the country in terms of being unobtrusive in home-schooling regulations and that "all [I] had to do to comply was to say, 'I'm teaching my child at home, and my church is supervising it' and [I] would never have had to go to court."

First of all, to have said such a thing would have been untrue. My church was not, would not, and could not supervise my home instruction. Secondly, there is much more to Maryland's regulations than Mr. Cox implies.

The story didn't mention that Mr. Cox was defending a system he helped put in place. Although a home-schooler himself, Mr. Cox sat down with the state board of education several years ago and proposed the very regulations that got me into trouble. Mr. Cox helped create a climate in Maryland that forces home-schoolers to duck for cover into organizations such as his own. For a charge of $600 per year, Mr. Cox will act as a buffer between the home-schooler and the county government.

I was brought to court because I refused to sign a complex, four-page legal agreement which requires a lawyer's interpretation and agrees to place the ultimate responsibility for the education of my daughter in the hands of the state of Maryland. This was something neither my conscience nor my common sense would allow me to do. By signing the document, called "Assurance of Consent," a home-schooler agrees to document 17 subjects twice yearly as having been "regularly and thoroughly taught" and agrees to, if failing to provide adequate documentation, revocation of his "license to home-school."

I would personally rather risk being cited for not signing the form than for signing it and then later having my license to home-school revoked for failing to measure up to open-ended, impossible demands. I know of no home-schoolers in Maryland who like this form, and all who sign it do so with a squeamish stomach. No wonder a whole lot of Maryland home-schoolers are willing to pay up to $600 a year to groups like Mr. Cox's rather than risk their parental rights with portfolio reviews by the county.

Maryland is hardly one of the least intrusive states. It treats homeschoolers like criminals on probation--or worse. Over the years, home-schoolers have patiently submitted boxes and bags full of papers to prove themselves innocent of exploitation or educational neglect of their own children. National studies of home-schoolers in both regulated and nonregulated states consistently show home-schoolers outperforming governmentally taught children by one or two grade levels on national standardized tests. Home-schoolers should be handed a medal, not treated with suspicion and such privacy-invading scrutiny.

I think the time has come for Maryland to extend more trust and faith to its homeschoolers. The state's compelling interest would be served as well or better by an alternate system, such as having parents file a simple notice of intent to home-school with the bureau of vital statistics, and then keep standardized academic test scores on hand to be produced by the parent if serious allegations of educational neglect are made. This would be a much saner, simpler, and fairer system.

Since my case proved that the state's regulations are really not regulations, but rather "suggestions and guidelines," I urge home-schoolers in Maryland to press for more liberty.

Cheryl Anne Battles
Arnold, Md.

Vol. 16, Issue 14

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