Jul 27, 2022 - News

Churches warned about hosting homeschooled children without permit

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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Two Cobb County churches have been notified that they are violating building codes by hosting home-schooled students who use hybrid education programs.

Driving the news: In a July 14 letter, Fire Marshal Nicholas Dawe informed Macland Baptist Church in Powder Springs and Christ Episcopal Church in Kennesaw that his office received complaints that they were hosting "private schools without a certificate of occupancy."

  • The letter told the churches they needed to obtain an education certificate of occupancy if they wanted to continue hosting students.
  • This certificate is required for buildings that host classes for six or more people for more than 4 hours a day or 12 hours a week, according to the county's letter.

What they're saying: Cobb County spokesperson Ross Cavitt, who said no citations were issued, told Axios that the Fire Marshal's Office is working with both churches to help them get into compliance.

  • "I think any reasonable parent in the county would want their children learning in a facility that has basic life [and] safety equipment like fire sprinklers, fire alarms, and that sort of thing," he said.

The other side: The Institute for Justice, which advocates for educational choice, sent Cobb County a letter stating that its actions violate a 2021 law passed by the Georgia General Assembly that prohibits governments from restricting "learning pods," which involve parents grouping their children together to learn under the supervision of an instructor or tutor.

  • Learning pods, which became popular during the pandemic, are exempt from state and local building and fire codes that apply to educational and childcare buildings, according to the legislation.
  • Churches already have to get certificates of occupancy for assembly to host services and Sunday school, so "it doesn't make sense" to have extra regulations, Suranjan Sen, an attorney at the Institute for Justice, told Axios.
  • “If it's safe enough for Sunday school, then it's safe enough for Monday school,” he said.

St. John The Baptist Hybrid serves 97 home-schooled students and provides instruction Monday through Wednesday at Christ Episcopal Church, according to the Institute.

  • School administrator Sharon Masinelli said in a statement that the church where it holds sessions received a certificate of occupancy for assembly a year ago after meeting all county standards.
  • "We sincerely hope the regulations, which are newly imposed on facilities hosting homeschool groups, will not deprive our families of school choice," she said.
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