Massachusetts Department of Education Draft Advisory on Home Education
On June 9, 2003, a representative from Advocates for Home Education in Massachusetts joined representatives from other homeschooling organizations to discuss the current DOE Draft Advisory on homeschooling. The advisory is the document the DOE submits to individuals seeking information about homeschooling in Massachusetts. Approval and oversight of home education is a local, rather than state, function in Massachusetts. Therefore, the Department of Education is not involved in setting policy, overseeing school district practices, or otherwise enforcing the Commonwealth's home education law. The document's intent, according to the DOE, is to provide a neutral analysis of homeschooling law, and to answer the most commonly asked questions about homeschooling. Many homeschooling groups, including AHEM, have taken issue with various sections of the draft.
One of the themes homeschooling groups tried to convey to Ms. Keliher was that of intimidation. We tried to explain that the tone of the advisory might intimidate superintendents and lead them to feel an obligation to come down hard on homeschoolers. Passages from the advisory regarding prior approval were cited. Ms. Keliher seemed to understand the issues we presented, though she said that in a public document she did not have leeway to interpret the law, only convey it. Nevertheless, she acknowledged our concerns and said she would take them under consideration.
Another major issue presented at the meeting was special education. Homeschooling groups have been concerned that the current document advises superintendents to treat families homeschooling a special education child differently from other families. The advice is based on special education laws, and specifically FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education). Homeschooling groups in attendance argued that FAPE should not apply to homeschooling families, while Ms. Keliher explained that since FAPE is the standard for special education students in public school, and the homeschooling plan has to "equal in thoroughness and efficiency that of the public school...," then homeschooling plans must address the child's special needs. She also conceded that she needed to consult special education experts to better understand the issue, and seemed to agree that this section of the advisory needed some changes. [See clarification to federal regulations regarding homeschooling and special needs: http://www.ahem.info/HSandSPED.htm]
Friends of AHEM wishing to receive the full set of minutes for the meeting let us know and we will provide it. If you would like a copy of the draft advisory, please contact us at info@AHEM.info or send a SASE to AHEM, PO Box 1307, Arlington, MA 02474.
The advisory was scheduled to be revised over the summer, with prospective finalization and release in fall of 2003. However, as of September 2003 Liz Keliher has informed us that because of the workload at the DOE she has not put the necessary time into the advisory to release it this fall. We will keep you informed of its progress.
The draft circulates even though it is not in final form. You may find that your local district has incorporated parts of the advisory into their local policy even though the DOE does not have any authority to set homeschool policy in Massachusetts.