Kaleese Corniel was a brilliant student at a public school in the Bronx, who, by eleventh grade in 2015, had passed all her High School Regents exams (a requirement to graduate in New York) and then asked her parents to be homeschooled. They were initially reluctant, but eventually her father went in person to the New York City Department of Education and submitted all the necessary documentation to homeschool her. The family diligently followed the legal requirements and submitted the reports required by city and state laws on time. Yet despite all this, they continued to get letters from the New York State Education Department stating that Kaleese was not attending school and thus considered a dropout. 

In 2016, Kaleese finished her high school curriculum at home and was ready for college. Like all other homeschooled students in New York City, she received only a letter of completion of high school from the state Department of Education. The state refused to send her a letter of equivalency, which would state that the education she had received at home was equal to that of New York City public schools. The state’s refusal prevented Kaleese from enrolling in and receiving financial aid for her preferred colleges. She was only allowed to attend Westchester Community College as a non-matriculated student and had to pay for all her classes. After a semester, she was finally accepted as a full student at Monroe College. She has now graduated from Monroe and is a diagnostic medical sonographer at a hospital in Virginia. 

Kaleese’s parents, John and Frania, still live in the Bronx and homeschool two boys, who will soon complete their high school curriculum. The family hopes a bill in Albany will give their sons more college choices and access to financial aid than their sister enjoyed. The bill, sponsored by Assemblymember Carrie Woerner and Senator Monica Martinez, will amend Article 65 of the New York State Education Law to recognize home instruction as being equivalent to the education offered by New York public schools. This would allow homeschooled students who have met the home-instruction requirements outlined by the New York State Commissioner of Education to obtain a letter of equivalency from their districts. 

“My son will be a junior this September. If we don't get this letter, he can’t go to a CUNY or SUNY college—he will have to go out of state, which is too expensive. He can’t even enroll in trade school because they require a high school diploma,” says Frania Corniel.

Despite being one of the least friendly states for homeschooling, New York had the second-fastest-growing homeschooling population in the nation. In 2016, there were only 23,875 homeschooled students in New York; now there are more than 50,000.

 Instead of erecting bureaucratic barriers for these students, New York should focus on the students in public schools, many of whom are receiving an education inferior to the one the Corniel family has given to their kids. In 2022, only 57 percent of high school seniors in the Bronx graduated with a Regents diploma.

It’s time for New York State to recognize the rising population of homeschooled students and to stop denying them access to college and financial aid.

Photo by Nicole Neri for The Washington Post via Getty Images


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