Massachusetts Home Education: Information for Superintendents
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and Frequently Given Answers
Last updated August 8, 2002
Both MHLA and MassHOPE have been in operation for over ten years, helping homeschoolers in Massachusetts to homeschool legally and to avoid any extra-legal requirements. Below are questions we are most commonly asked. Our answers do not represent legal advice. Rather, they reflect our collective wisdom, gathered over years of careful attention to all facets of home education regulation in the Commonwealth.
FAQ 1: Notification
FAQ 2: Diploma
FAQ 3: School activities
FAQ 4: MCAS
FAQ 5: Special needs
FAQ 6: Meetings
FAQ 7: Reporting and assessment
FAQ 8: Schedules
FAQ #1: Notification questions
- What happens if parents remove the student to begin homeschooling without the prior approval of the education plan, but the parents are otherwise moving promptly to be in compliance with home education regulations?
The simple answer is that, in practice, children usually continue attending their homeschool program while awaiting the approval of the education plan.
Charles observes that the General Laws require that the home education plan be approved in advance. (Charles at 337) The actual General Law wording simply says that a child "otherwise educated in a manner approved in advance" (see Documents) by the superintendent meets the requirements of the compulsory attendance statute. We propose that a superintendent who provisionally approves home education as an acceptable "manner" while awaiting the submission of the education plan is actually fulfilling his statutory obligations.
Certainly, in the case of parents who are moving promptly to bring themselves into compliance, the school district may use its discretion to fulfill its responsibility by expediting review and approval of the proposed home education program. The alternative to expedited review is a judicial intervention, yet litigation in such a case will not provide any "punishment" for failure to obtain prior approval, because failure to obtain prior approval is not the pertinent legal issue. The pivotal issue in these judicial interventions is not whether a family followed the particular local procedures or rules, but whether the program, as a whole, "equals in thoroughness and efficiency" that of the public school.
In all the cases we know, the issue is resolved after the parents submit the education plan and the superintendent approves it. Even those cases that have gone to court provide for the children to continue attending their homeschool program while the school committee is seeking or reviewing the education plan. In the Charles case itself, the Court allowed the family to continue homeschooling pending the Court's decision.
In the Searles case (Amesbury 1990--a CHINS petition), the district court declined to order the child to attend the public school pending approval of a home education program. Rather, Judge Sprague concluded that "an order that the child enroll in the Amesbury public schools (or an approved private school) is premature at the present time….The interests of all parties are best served if they 'proceed expeditiously in a serious effort to resolve the matter by agreement.'"
We concur with Judge Sprague's assessment that the best course, in these unusual situations, is for parents and administrators to work together to get an education plan approved. Generally, that can happen in a matter of days. We see no educationally sound reason for keeping the child in school while processing the home education plan, nor for declaring truant a child who is being educated at home.
In the Foley case (Orleans District Court 1992), homeschooling continued pending court action. (As yet, the Foley case is not online.)
- What steps may a school district take if a parent fails to enroll the child or withdraws the child from school to begin home education and is refusing to move promptly to comply with home education regulations?
Care and Protection of Ivan (1999) deals with the narrow issue of what recourse is available to a school district when the school committee "has been effectively prevented from evaluating whether or not educational neglect exists, much less proving its existence, by the parents' failure to provide any information regarding the children's educational level, their mastery of basic skills or the methods being used to educate them." (Ivan at 88) The Ivan case is not a case about failure to obtain prior approval. The judges approved granting temporary custody only after the Waltham School Committee spent almost two years "cajoling the parents." Clearly, the Ivan case is not of use to superintendents facing parents who are moving to comply but who have not sought (or have sought and not received) prior approval.
- What happens if school officials find the education plan lacking in some way?
Charles provides a procedure for such a rejection of the education plan. The superintendent in that case must "provide the parents with an opportunity to explain their proposed plan and present witnesses on their behalf. A hearing during a school committee meeting would be sufficient to meet this requirement." Here the parents would bear the responsibility of demonstrating that the home school proposal meets the necessary requirements (see previous section on legitimate criteria for review). "If the home school proposal is rejected, the superintendent or the school committee must detail the reasons for the decision. The parents must then be given an opportunity to revise their proposal to remedy its inadequacies."
- What happens if a family begins homeschooling after the school committee has refused to approve their proposal?
Charles again provides a procedure. In this case, if the school committee chooses to prosecute the parents, "the burden of proof…shifts to the school committee to show that the instruction outlined in the home school proposal fails to equal 'in thoroughness and efficiency, and in the progress made therein, that in the public schools in the same town.'" (Charles at 338)
FAQ #2: Do homeschoolers receive a diploma?
FAQ #3: May homeschoolers participate in extra curricular activities? In high school athletics? In regular academic classes?
Yes to all, depending on the policy of the local district.
The MIAA has ruled that, at the discretion of the local district, home educated high school athletes may play on school teams. Home-educated students: Requirements for Participation in Interscholastic Athletic Programs
In many districts, home-educated young people participate in school field trips, science fairs, assemblies, academic classes and after-school activities, including intramural and varsity sports. Public schools frequently make their libraries, gyms, language labs, computers, textbooks and other supplies available to homeschooling families.
FAQ #4: Do homeschoolers take the MCAS?
No. The frameworks that are tested by the MCAS are the curriculum for the public school. As Charles has indicated, parents can be required to provide instruction in the subjects required by G.L. c 71 sec 1, but there is no set sequence of instruction that must be followed.
As Charles states, the superintendent may not "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." (Charles at 339) The passage of the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 did not affect the assessment guidelines that Charles established. The DOE website confirms that homeschooled students "are not required nor entitled by law to participate in MCAS."
FAQ #5: Special Needs/Special Education
There is nothing in the law or court decisions that would prohibit parents from providing their special needs child with home education. Often, the parents choose to homeschool because the child is not progressing in the special needs program at the school, yet these same children make dramatic improvements at home. Some experts even counsel that home education is the best solution for special needs children. Given the evidence we see, it would be appropriate to presume that the special needs child will progress at home. In any case, the regular approval process, outlined in Charles, covers all children in the Commonwealth. Special needs children should not be singled out for a different approval process. There are no separate homeschool regulations or special obligations for parents wanting to homeschool a child with special needs.
FAQ #6: Can school officials require parents to come to school for a meeting?
Charles and Brunelle do not directly discuss the issue of meetings between parents and school officials. However, Brunelle makes it clear that any conditions for approval of education proposals must be "essential" for evaluating the education of the child. Most districts in the Commonwealth do not require parents to meet with school officials as a condition of approval of the education proposal. Therefore, it is unlikely that such a requirement could be shown to be essential as a matter of course.
FAQ #7: Reporting and Assessment questions
- How often are "periodic" reports required?
Superintendents and parents who have chosen periodic progress reports or dated work samples as a form of evaluation decide on a mutually satisfactory reporting schedule, usually not more than once a year.
- May school officials require more than one form of assessment?
The Court indicated that ONE method, not multiple methods, of assessment may be required.
Charles discusses testing (see below) OR other means of evaluating the progress of the children, such as "periodic progress reports or dated work samples." (Charles at 340)
While superintendents may require testing, the law does not require them to do so.
- What kind of testing may be required? How are the tests administered?
Charles provides that testing may be required, but that school authorities will consult with parents as to "where the testing is to occur and the type of testing instrument to be used. Where practical, a neutral party should administer the test." (Charles at 340)
FAQ #8: May school officials require a day-by-day hour-by-hour schedule to be filled out as a condition of approval?
Legally, there is no support for such a requirement. Brunelle specifically addresses the lack of a need for formal schedule in the home school. "While following a schedule may be an important consideration in a public school where preexisting schedules need to be maintained and coordinated, the perception and use of time in a home school are different." (Brunelle at 517 and 518)Copyright 2001, 2002 by Massachusetts Home Learning Association and Massachusetts Homeschool Organization of Parent Educators. Pages may be freely copied provided that the following sentence is included with any citation: Information for Superintendents is provided by MHLA (mhla.org) and MassHOPE (masshope.org) and can be found in its entirety at either one of those sites.
Practically, requiring such a schedule would take away the educational advantages of personalized instruction and flexibility by imposing artificial time constraints on students. Classroom management issues faced by school teachers may call for rigid schedules, but the homeschooling environment does not. Homeschooled students are allowed to study in a way that maximizes learning. The student has the freedom to pursue an interest for hours, rather than being required to end an investigation simply because it is time to move on to the next class.
Virtually all the hours of the day in the homeschool comply with the DOE definition of "structured learning" time:
In addition to classroom time where both teachers and students are present, structured learning time may include directed study, independent study, technology-assisted learning, presentations by persons other than teachers.."
In addition, structured learning time may include home economics, technical studies, business, school-to-work opportunities, teacher/student advisory programs, and career planning. "Directed study" is the common condition of home educated students. Directed study "requires students to be engaged in activities directly related to their program of studies, and a teacher must be available to assist students." The number of hours that homeschooled students spend in this condition far exceeds the 990 hours that Ed Reform requires of the public schools. See What Counts on the DOE website.
August 2002 edition
The information on this website does not constitute legal advice; it is provided for informational purposes only.