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Homeschooling in Spite of Ambiguity

By Gwendolyn Atwood

When dealing with the local school official in our town, we have found that good information has been useful in helping us hold ground confidently in the face of requests for more than one report a year. I believe our annual year-end reports have quite satisfactorily demonstrated our children's progress. I use the writing of them to satisfy myself and my own high standards on this score, since otherwise I would find it too frustrating to spend the time writing them, when there are so many other good things to do with our precious time here on earth. I'm not interested in taking time to do three make-work, mid-year reports on our kids. I wasted too much time doing unnecessary exercises in school to have any patience left for that sort of thing! Using information provided by AHEM, we have been able to keep to a single report per year in spite of some minor pressure from the school administrator for more.

When we began reporting three years ago, we received a letter requesting information about our goals and methods. The assistant superintendent who wrote this request added that he would be in contact at "mid-year and at the end of the year for an update of the progress and reports."

Using others' old education plans and the suggestions on the AHEM website, I drafted goals for our daughter's learning, listed resources available at our home and in the larger community, spoke of how we homeschool all day, year round, "without stopping for weekends or holidays," and listed my husband's and my educational degrees as our qualifications. For evaluation, I stated that we would submit a progress report the next summer. I deliberately did not address the request for a mid-year evaluation, knowing that in many Massachusetts towns, a year-end report on progress for each child is considered sufficient.

All of this went through the mill without a glitch, seemingly. I received a letter approving our plan, and proceeded to unschool Julia (and our other, younger children) in the manner to which we had become happily accustomed. Mid-year came and went without my, or apparently, the assistant superintendent, noticing anything amiss. Certainly, our homeschooling was proceeding full throttle!

I sent in my report on the year's progress in a timely manner, and heard nothing until a letter arrived in September by certified mail asking, "Will you please explain why I have not received [your] report?" I immediately replied in writing that I had indeed sent the report, and soon received a gratifying apology for his having "misfiled" it.

That January, I received a letter requesting a mid-year report, something I'd heard nothing about in the previous "misfiled" year. Before composing my polite letter, I called AHEM, and made use of the policy and practice database - lovingly created by your submissions and completed questionnaires, dear readers. I acquired a long list of surrounding towns where the school requires only one report a year. This I enclosed in my letter, thanking the superintendent for his interest in our child's progress but demurring on the issue of the mid-year report and stating, "Requiring just one report per year... is common practice... For example, in the seven surrounding towns the public school administrations request one report per year for each homeschooled child." I thought that was an impressive statistic.

I guess the superintendent did not. Or maybe he wasn't sure. Maybe he misfiled the letter. He's obviously busy with other things. In any case, I never heard anything back. That summer, I sent in my evaluation for the year for our oldest, and a plan for her and our middle child who was turning six. I received an approving reply, with no mention of the mid-year evaluation issue. But then a letter arrived in January once again requesting a mid-year evaluation. This time in my polite reply I could express surprise since he hadn't mentioned in his approval letter that he would be seeking a mid-year report this year. In his reply, the assistant super-intendent referred to the school policy document that he had sent at the outset of our reporting career, in which a mid-year report is requested, but he also acknowledged that he had approved our plan with only the year-end report. So we proceeded within that ambiguity.

This summer, I sent in my year-end evaluations and plans. I thought we would have a clear resolution this time of whether he was going to require the mid-year report or not. Instead, I received back a temporizing letter stating," I grant approval for you to proceed. I will communicate with you about submitting updates on your progress." I wonder if he's planning to talk to his counterparts in the surrounding towns? Or if he's going to try to find some counterparts in towns where they do require a mid-year evaluation? (Maybe hard to do, since he doesn't have AHEM to call). Maybe he's just planning to finesse this issue indefinitely with continued rounds of thrusts and parries such as we've had over the last two years? Maybe he needs more time to think about it and is going to let us off the hook? Maybe he's planning to change the policy for the whole town, having seen that a mid-year report is an unnecessary and inconvenient formality? With support from AHEM, I will politely hold my ground on this minor but meaningful issue. With a clear understanding of the Charles guidelines coupled with civil, firm com-munication, it's been possible to homeschool supplying the amount of information I feel comfortable with.