WPA has been informed by the DPI that in order to save money, the DPI will be switching from paper PI-1206 forms to an electronic version that homeschoolers file online beginning this August with forms for the 2010-2011 school year. This change requires new procedures and raises concerns about protecting homeschoolers’ privacy. The WPA Board has discussed the issues involved, and a WPA representative has gathered the following information from the DPI.
People who submitted a form for 2009-2010 will be notified by letter that they are to submit the form electronically this October. These letters will probably be mailed in mid-August. As in the past, it will be important not to submit your form until early October. As the WPA handbook explains on page 27, “WPA encourages you not to file the form before October for two reasons. First, public and other private schools in Wisconsin base their reports on enrollment as of the third Friday in September and file their forms on October 15. Since homeschools are private schools, we follow this requirement. Doing so reminds school officials that we are sending the form to report enrollment. Second, complying with more than the minimum requirement of the law (in this case, sending in the form before public schools open in the fall or at some other time before it is due) encourages public officials to increase requirements and exceed their legal authority.”
Homeschoolers will complete their forms electronically, providing the same information that has been required in the past. Once you have completed the form online, there will be a button to click to send it to the DPI. You can also print out your completed form as a PDF. This copy will be the equivalent of the pink carbon copy of the three-part paper form used until now and is an important part of your homeschooling records.
However, having a printed copy of your form does not prove you submitted it to the DPI. Therefore, WPA has requested that people who submit the form receive an official letter of acknowledgement from the DPI stating that their form has been received. This letter of acknowledgement proves that you have submitted the report of your homeschool and is also an important part of your homeschooling records.
WPA has suggested to the DPI that the letter include the following language:
“This email letter is to officially notify you that the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has received your completed and signed report which satisfies the requirement under Wisconsin statutes for reporting to the DPI that you will be operating a home-based private educational program, commonly referred to as a homeschool, during the 2010-2011 school year.”
If you do not have a home computer, you can file your form online from someone else’s computer, including one at your local public library. If you do not already have an email account and want to receive an email acknowledging that the DPI has received your form, you can set one up free on any computer through a Web-based interface such as Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo mail. The librarian should be able to help you do this at your local public library.
For hard case situations, you can request a paper copy of the form from the DPI, which plans to respond to such requests by sending one of the 300 leftover copies of the form for the 2009-2010 school year. No paper copies of the form will be printed for the 2010-2011 school year.
WPA expressed concerns about protecting homeschoolers privacy for several reasons.
• Electronic forms transmit information directly into a data base which could easily be sorted, duplicated, and provided to others without the cost and time of entering the data about homeschoolers. To be sure, the DPI has been careful and conscientious in its written policies regarding the protection of information submitted by homeschoolers on PI-1206 forms in the past. Among other things, it has refused to reveal the names of homeschoolers to reporters and others, citing the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and Wisconsin statutes. WPA appreciates the DPI’s conscientiousness in this area. However, the ease with which electronic data can be sorted, extracted, duplicated, and shared increases the risk. (continued on next page)
• The DPI has informed school districts both on its Web site and in direct communication that data about homeschoolers is not to be included in the statewide student identification system or shared with government agencies, marketers, or others. However, some districts have ignored this instruction and have added the data to the ID system and/or used it to contact homeschoolers themselves. Actions of this sort by local school districts are not something the DPI has much direct control over.
In response to the concerns WPA raised about privacy, the DPI has responded as follows:
• Homeschoolers will NOT be asked or required to provide their social security number or another personal identification number as part of their electronic form PI-1206. The DPI will not add an identification number to forms that are submitted.
• Each year the report that the DPI compiles from the forms it receives begins with a blank screen. In other words, the DPI does not track individual families from one year to the next to keep a record of how many forms they file. (The DPI has used its record of forms from the current year to send people a PI-1206 for the coming year, or to notify them of the change to an electronic form, however.)
WPA will continue to track this new development and, as in the past, we will let homeschoolers know how best to protect their privacy in dealing with local school district officials as well as the DPI. If you hear additional information about the new electronic PI-1206 forms, please share this information with WPA.