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Remember: Policy does not equal practice!

The Role of School Policies and Forms

What are local home education policies?

Home education policies are not laws nor contracts between schools and homeschoolers. Rather, they are tools for the administrative convenience of school officials. School districts are not required to have policies, but are free to deal with homeschoolers on a case-by-case basis.

The superintendent or school committee is given the authority, by statute, to "approve in advance" the "manner of education" for homeschooled students. Most districts now have written home education policies. When drafting policies, school committees tend to investigate other districts' policies; your district's policy might be very similar to other districts.

School officials may not condition the approval of home education on anything but requirements that are essential to determining if education is taking place.They may not simply set any requirements they deem appropriate.

Do I need a special form?

Many districts have both a homeschool policy and a homeschool form. Your policy might include a special form to submit to the school. There is no requirement that you use any particular form, just certain areas into which school districts may properly inquire.

Reviewing your district's policy

The Massachusetts Home Learning Association (MHLA) suggests that you become well informed about any home education policies your district may have. When reviewing a policy, we suggest you evaluate the new policy in regard to two critical components: substance and process

Substance: Factors upon which approval is conditioned must be essential to "seeing that children receive an education."

The school committee is a local administrative body that establishes "educational goals and policies for the schools in the district consistent with the requirements of law." G. L. c. 71, 37. The requirements of law with regard to home education are set forth in the compulsory attendance statute, G. L. c. 76 1, which includes provision for those students who are "otherwise educated" (the category that includes homeschooled students).

The Supreme Judicial Court has held that G. L. c. 76, 1 grants to local school officials discretion to develop home school approval guidelines. These local officials must, however, avoid infringing upon the Fourteenth Amendment liberty interests of parents, who possess a basic right to direct the education of their children. Thus, a superintendent or a school committee may not condition approval of a home education plan on "requirements that are not essential to the State interest in ensuring that 'all the children shall be educated.'" Care and Protection of Charles, 399 Mass 324. (1987) (See Charles Decision)

Essential is the key word here. For example, while it might be perfectly reasonable, from an administrative point of view, to require parents to submit home education documents at least sixty days before the start of a school year, such a requirement could not be presumed to be essential. Approval of the education plan could not, therefore, be conditioned on satisfying such a requirement.

Process: Primary stakeholders should be included in policy formation.

The Massachusetts Department of Education (DOE) encourages superintendents and school committees to employ participatory decision-making and community partnerships in order to "strengthen and broaden the base of support for school improvement." [See the Massachusetts Department of Education (DOE) Advisory on School Governance: http://www.doe.mass.edu/lawsregs/advisory/cm1115gov.html#VS ] If school officials are urged to include stakeholders in their decision-making process, then it is appropriate for local homeschoolers to expect that their school committees will consult them when considering home education policy.

The most expeditious way for a school committee to draft an effective home education policy is to avail itself of the expertise of the homeschool community. (See Information for Superintendents, available online at: http://mhla.org/supt.htm ) To meet the goals of participatory decision-making and community partnerships, a school committee ought to include homeschooling parents in the development, review, and evaluation of new homeschool policies.

Massachusetts Home Learning Association

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