Policies in Massachusetts: An Overview
AHEM offers this clarification of the role
of homeschool policies in towns in Massachusetts. While unsatisfactory
policies can occasionally create nuisances for homeschoolers,
they are not a huge problem in Massachusetts. Under our current
law, the only policy that counts is Charles.
While homeschoolers within their own towns can have good experiences
working with school officials, build bridges, develop positive
relationships, and educate school officials about Charles
and homeschooling in general, a policy that exceeds Charles
is not in and of itself a threat to homeschooling freedoms, and
does not automatically signify an unreasonable superintendent.
Are Only Administrative Tools, Not Law
No school district is required to have a homeschooling policy.
Policies are not legal documents, only administrative tools superintendents
and school committees devise to ease their task of homeschool
oversight. School districts can write whatever policies they like
as an administrative tool, but if their guidelines exceed those
of Charles and Brunelle,
then the policy is not legal.
there are some inflexible and unreasonable superintendents out
there, in most cases they are just people who are trying to do
their jobs. Communicating with them in reasonable, non-contentious
ways serves homeschoolers who are trying to negotiate on policy
points. One thing homeschoolers struggling with their town's policy
can do is to remind superintendents that they are not shirking
their oversight responsibilities if they choose not to create
of Homeschool Policies
In the process of compiling our policy
and practice database, it has come to the attention of AHEM
that many school districts in Massachusetts recycle homeschool
policies from other towns. Some may be extracting homeschooling
policies from a national policy database maintained by the National
School Board Association (NSBA). The Massachusetts Association
of School Committees (MASC) has recently started publicly posting
school policies on its web site [http://www.masc.org/policy/online-policy-manuals].
The parts to do with homeschooling are in sections IHBG and LBC.
Our research so far shows that at least some of the policies in
both the NSBA and MASC databases contain extralegal requirements.
If your town is adopting a "new" policy you might check
with us to see if it is a policy already in use somewhere in Massachusetts.
It's safe to assume that a school adopting such a policy is not
going over it with a fine-toothed comb, but rather choosing to
lighten its workload by not reinventing the wheel and using something
already in existence.
Pros and cons of working with school officials to revise written
Based on data from AHEM's policy and practice database, it is
common for policies in Massachusetts to exceed Charles
in one aspect or another. In practice, homeschoolers generally
do not follow the policy points that are objectionable, and their
plans are approved with no problems. (See Summary
of data from Massachusetts town homeschool policy and practice
database, November 2005.) There have been cases, however,
where homeschoolers have chosen to work with their superintendents
or school committees to bring their town policy in line with Charles
and Brunelle. Given that homeschool policies are legally
meaningless in Massachusetts, what might be the reasons for spending
long hours in negotiation with school committees and superintendents
over points that don't need to be followed anyway?
One reason might be that working in a group on an abstract analysis
of the issues can feel less threatening than doing it as an individual
family, if it appears that the school is actually going to follow
through and not approve plans that ignore bogus policy points.
On the other hand, taking the school to task on their policy may
give the policy more importance than it should have, and may not
be necessary to obtain approval.
Another reason is the possible intimidation and confusion of new
homeschoolers. If new homeschoolers are not acquainted with the
law, they may comply with policies that exceed the law. This is
where homeschool advocacy organizations such as AHEM enter the
picture. By creating networks and support for new homeschoolers,
we can help acquaint them with the law and their rights so they
can make the best decisions possible. Also, it is the responsibility
of any new homeschooler to learn the law and follow it; policies
are not the law.
Whether "homeschooler approved" or "ideal"
policies should be created is worth considering. A given group
of homeschoolers may hammer out an agreement on a homeschool policy
with a school committee; then other homeschoolers in that town
may come along and choose to do something other than what the
policy outlines, yet their choice may still be in keeping with
Charles. Will those homeschoolers be taken to task for
not wanting to follow the "homeschooler approved" policy?
Will school officials be more likely to enforce a policy that
they feel some ownership over, having spent hours in committee
meetings and negotiation sessions?
While Charles is vague on some points, in practice that translates
to flexibility. Some towns choose a minimalist approach to overseeing
homeschoolers, do not have any official policy, and largely leave
homeschoolers to themselves. In towns with written homeschool
policies, the policies aren't the same from town to town, nor
do they have to be given the flexibility Charles offers.
Again, they are simply administrative tools intended to streamline
the contact between school officials and homeschoolers, and guidelines
in town policies ought to be in line with those of Charles.
Under Charles, parents are free to homeschool regardless
of our own level of education, and we are free to use whatever
methods and materials we choose. We are also given a range of
options for evaluation, including narrative progress reports we
create, an option not available in many states with supposedly
"better" homeschooling laws. The diversity among Massachusetts
homeschoolers is significant. Fortunately, our homeschooling law
is flexible enough to accommodate varying styles.
Homeschoolers always have the option of choosing to ignore policy
points that exceed Charles. In the rare cases where this
does not work in gaining approval of an education plan, joining
together with other homeschoolers in your town to address extralegal
policy points may be helpful. AHEM may be able to refer you to
other homeschoolers who have done this if you choose to go this
route. In such a case, ascertaining where the policy actually
originated may be helpful. Even after the best efforts of homeschoolers
and school officials working together, policies may still contain
points that homeschoolers don't want to follow. Regardless of
how any group of homeschoolers may have worked with school officials
on a policy, the content of a family's education plan still comes
down to the individual family and the Charles and Brunelle
to Homeschooling in Massachusetts.
information on this website does not constitute legal advice;
it is provided for informational purposes only.