We received a large number of responses, and it has been very helpful to get all this feedback and information from across the state. We have been in contact with the DESE, and although we are making progress, the organization is overwhelmed with planning and policy issues, so this will be a process.
This update is to give you some support and language that you may use as next steps with your district as we prioritize and start addressing the most egregious over reach. Note that we are veteran homeschoolers and not lawyers and do not give legal advice.
That said, some of the overreach reported includes:
district form requirement for approval
multiple personal documents requested
immunization records of children requested
hourly/daily/weekly schedule per subject
district certified curriculum
excessive parent qualifications
multiple annual assessments
meetings with the districts
named educational “philosophy”
requesting provisions for socialization
choosing an “accredited” homeschooling program
The Four (4) Things
Massachusetts has some 350-400 school districts who all make their own policy, and while they may request a number of things, there are only 4 things required of homeschoolers according to the Charles and Brunelle decisions (case law).
- The educational plan, including subjects taught and hours of instruction.
Case Law, Charles Decision, “Primary among these is the proposed curriculum and the number of hours of instruction in each of the proposed subjects.”
Typically, providing the district with a statement that you will provide at least 180 days and 900 / 990 hours of instruction (900 for elementary / 990 for high school) is sufficient. This statement meets the minimum requirements for compulsory education in Massachusetts.
Some districts have started asking for this by subject, which is within their right according to case law (see above). Our advice is to make your best estimate by dividing the hours among the subjects. However, the district may not demand an hourly / daily / weekly schedule. If you have not yet submitted your plan, or you have submitted your plan without a statement about hours, you should revise your plan to include one.
Case Law indicates that the district “cannot apply institutional standards to this non-institutionalized setting.” (Brunelle), and “the perception and use of time in a home school are different.” (Brunelle) These are terms that may help you in your response to the district.
Case Law, Charles Decision, “"instruction and training in orthography, reading, writing, the English language and grammar, geography, arithmetic, drawing, music, the history and constitution of the United States, the duties of citizenship, health education, physical education and good behavior." Under Section 1, the school committee may also require other subjects.”
Typically, a general list reflecting subjects like the ones above is sufficient. If you have not yet submitted your plan, or you have submitted your plan without a statement about subjects, you should revise your plan to include one.
- Texts, materials and resources
Case Law, Charles, “The superintendent or school committee must also have access to the textbooks, workbooks, and other instructional aids to be used by the children and to the lesson plans and teaching manuals to be used by the parents. This access is necessary only to determine the type of subjects to be taught and the grade level of the instruction for comparison purposes with the curriculum of the public schools. The superintendent or school committee may not use this access to dictate the manner in which the subjects will be taught. This would involve the school authorities in an activity beyond the legitimate scope of the State interest involved.”
Case Law, Brunelle, “It should not be overlooked in this regard, that some of the most effective curricular materials that the plaintiffs may use may not be tangible. For example, travel, community service, visits to educationally enriching facilities and places, and meeting with various resource people, can provide important learning experiences apart from the four corners of a text or workbook.”
Some districts are requesting statements about educational philosophy, specific and “certified” curricula and programs, and other details that are beyond the scope of what is required of homeschoolers to be in compliance. If you did not include any list of texts and materials, you may revise your plan to include this and re-submit. If your educational plan already includes a list of texts and materials you may use, you may state that you have fulfilled your obligation under the Charles and Brunelle Decisions. If you submitted a list of texts and materials that was overly vague, you may want to include more specific curricula or methodologies that you “may use” and re-submit.
“The approval of a home school proposal must not be conditioned on requirements that are not essential to the State interest in ensuring that ‘all the children shall be educated,” Charles & Brunelle. This language may help you in your response to the district.
- Parent Qualifications
Case Law, Charles, “The superintendent or school committee may also examine the competency of the parents to teach the children. General Laws c. 71, Section 1, provides that teachers shall be "of competent ability and good morals." While we recognize that teachers in public schools must be certified, certification would not appropriately be required for parents under a home school proposal.
Case Law, Charles, “Nor must the parents have college or advanced academic degrees. However, the superintendent or school committee may properly inquire as to the academic credentials or other qualifications of the parent or parents who will be instructing the children.”
The district may inquire about the qualification of parents. You are not obligated to provide any additional documentation of degrees or certifications other than a statement that you are of, “competent ability and good morals.” If the district is insisting on any additional documentation as to your qualifications, you may use the language above in the case law to respond.
Some districts have asked for the addresses of the instructors, or for information on others in your home. This is beyond the scope of what is required by homeschoolers to provide.
- Annual assessment
Case Law, Charles, “Finally, the superintendent or school committee may properly require periodic standardized testing of the children to ensure educational progress and the attainment of minimum standards.”
Case Law, Charles, “Other means of evaluating the progress of the children may be substituted for the formal testing process, such as periodic progress reports or dated work samples, subject to the approval of the parents.”
Some districts are asking parents to agree to multiple forms of assessment, or are requiring standardized testing. The case law indicates that homeschoolers are responsible for only one form of assessment. You may advocate for your preferred method of assessment.
Other concerning requests
If you have submitted your educational plan, and the district asks you to fill out their form, you may politely decline. If your educational plan is complete (as indicated by the 4 things above) you may say that your educational plan fulfills the obligation to the district under the Charles and Brunelle decisions. The next step is for the district to review the plan. They may not delay processing your educational plan contingent upon the return of their internal form.
Meetings with the District
There is no requirement outlined in case law that requires you to meet with any public school official, so you may politely decline. If you have submitted your ed plan, and it is complete (as indicated by the 4 things above) you may say that your educational plan fulfills the obligation to the district under the Charles and Brunelle decisions. The next step is for the district to review the plan. They may not delay processing your educational plan contingent upon a meeting with school officials.
Proof of Residency
This is a grey area. Superintendents are responsible for all students who live in their district. If this is to verify that you live within their district, and is required of all students in their district, it may be difficult to fight.
Birth Certificates / Other Proof of ID
Under the MA Compulsory Attendance statute, a Superintendent is responsible to the state for every child between 6-16. While there is no reference to birth certificates in Charles or Brunelle, it is possible that the district needs to know if the child is of an age for which they are required to approve an Ed Plan.
If the district indicates that they require immunization records for your child, you may simply state that this information is “beyond State's interest in the compulsory education of homeschooled children.”
Some districts are asking that a plan for “socialization” be included with your homeschool proposal. This is beyond the scope of what is required of homeschoolers according to case law. The compliance measures for homeschoolers are there “in ensuring that the children residing within the State receive an education, not that the educational process be dictated in its minutest detail.” (Charles Decision) Also note that a district cannot ask you the reason you chose to homeschool.
We hope this helps encourage you to respond to your districts with some confidence. We will be reaching out in order of urgency, our team is small and with so many responses, we did not want to delay in getting you some support and language that could help you take the next steps in advocating for your family.
Please continue to update any information/status on the "overreach" that you submitted such as "We have rec'd our approval as of..." or if there are further complications/issues with the district.