Brazilian Embassy's response to Chris Klicka's letter:
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To Chris Klicka
Senior Counsel of Home School Legal Defense Association
Thank you for your message supporting the efforts of the family of Mr. Carlos Alberto Carvalho Vilhena Coelho and his wife M·rcia to have the right to teach their children at home. Actually, the Vilhena family has been educating their children at home for the past ten years in An·polis, in the state of Goi·s. They are also enrolled at the local school "Imaculada ConceiÁ“o", where their evaluation is done regularly, along with the evaluations of the other students.
Nevertheless, Mr. Vilhena's formal request for homeschooling was not approved by the Elementary Education Committee of the National Education Council, due to the lack of legal authorization for homeschooling under the Brazilian Constitution and legal system. Under the applicable Brazilian legislation, (Law number 9394 of December 20, 1996), it is the legal duty of the parents - or the legal guardian - to enroll their children in a school from the age of seven, where each year they are legally required to attend a minimum of 800 hours, as well as a minimum of 200 school days. Therefore, enrollment is mandatory, as is an attendance rate of at least 75%. In Brazil, social interaction with other children in the same age range is considered to be an essential component of the educational process.
This Brazilian legislation should be understood as a way to guarantee the constitutional right of children to an education. During the 1960s, approximately 40% of Brazilian children did not attend school, which explains the high rates of illiteracy among adults today. The current reality in Brazil is that almost all of the children who do not attend school come from very low-income families and are obliged (by either circumstances or their parents) to enter the work force at an early age. Therefore, in recent years the Brazilian government has intensified its efforts to guarantee children's constitutional right to an education.
These efforts have succeeded, and by the year 2000 the percentage of children aged 7 to 14 enrolled in schools had increased to 97%. As recently as 1994, their rate of enrollment was only 89%, so significant progress has been made. These government efforts have resulted in a significant reduction of child labor in Brazil and have also contributed to a noteworthy decrease in child malnutrition, as public schools now provide more than 36 million free meals per day to low-income children.
Although homeschooling may be a very effective system of education in the United States, current Brazilian law does not authorize it and the highest educational priority of the Brazilian government is to ensure that all children receive at least the formal education provided free of charge by the public schools.
The organizational and structural differences between the educational systems in the United States and those in other countries, such as Brazil, should also be considered. They reflect non-symmetrical processes of social and educational development. Thus, an educational policy that has been effective in one country may not necessarily be implemented in other countries with the same results.
It should be noted that the National Education Council, in its decision, effusively praised the Vilhena Coelho family for their care and efforts to educate their children. Thus, its decision should not in any way be viewed as a persecution of that family by the Brazilian authorities, as some of the correspondence received at the Embassy from genuinely concerned American parents implies. In fact, hardly any of the individuals who write to the Embassy about this matter seem to have actually read the original text of the decision itself, instead having read an incomplete description or characterization of the decision.
Please note that the decision made by the National Education Council was based exclusively on the legal requirements imposed under the Brazilian constitution by the applicable legislation, which requires that all children attend school. Any amendments to this legislation that would allow for the inclusion of homeschooling as a legally-permitted option would depend on the expression of the democratic will of Brazilian families through the mechanisms of democracy, most likely by encouraging their elected Senators and Congressmen in the Brazilian Congress to introduce a bill through which the amended legislation would include it as a legal option.
Under the Brazilian constitution, which mandates a democratic division of powers among the three branches of government, the federal executive branch does not have the authority to single-handedly amend the text of such legislation. Nor does the National Education Council have the power to change the text of the current law. Only the citizens of Brazil, acting through their democratically elected representatives, have the power to do that. The way in which Brazilian democracy works is quite similar, in many respects, to the way in which other Western democracies work.
I hope you will have a chance to visit our beautiful country some day, so that you can see with your own eyes a few of the many projects and initiatives the Brazilian government has undertaken in its ongoing efforts to significantly improve the lives of its citizens, and especially the lives of those Brazilians who are poor and underprivileged, for whose children a decent education represents the most reliable path to a truly promising future.
Providing an education to all our citizens is - and will remain - an overriding priority of the Brazilian government, which believes that improving the education of our children is the best way to improve the future of both Brazil and its citizens.
Head of the Human Rights and Social Affairs Section, Brazilian Embassy
3006 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20008