Advocates for Home Education in Massachusetts, Inc.

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Draft Homeschooling Advisory

The Advisory is the document the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) submits to school officials seeking information about homeschooling in Massachusetts. Approval and oversight of home education is a local, rather than state, function in Massachusetts. Therefore, DESE 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 DESE, is to provide a neutral analysis of homeschooling law, and to answer the most commonly asked questions about homeschooling.

In 2003, many homeschooling groups, including AHEM, took issue with various sections of the Draft, such as those regarding prior approval and special education, and met with the DESE lawyer to discuss their concerns. Revisions were scheduled, but took years. The current version being circulated is dated 2009. AHEM was only lucky enough to obtain a copy of it recently from a friend, to whom it was forwarded by a school official.

Prior Approval

Like the 2000 Draft, the 2009 document uses a tone that might intimidate superintendents and lead them to feel an obligation to come down hard on homeschoolers who commence homeschooling without official approval. On the bright side, a sentence has been added indicating that the school committee or superintendent must review the proposal within a reasonable time. Of course reasonable is subject to interpretation.

Also, the DESE continues to insist that lack of response from a school district does not imply approval, even though a good number of districts in MA never acknowledge receipt of a plan (which is why AHEM suggests getting a receipt of your plan’s submission).

Unfortunately the DESE also added language not found in Charles that the school can inquire as to methodology to aid in evaluating an academic plan.

Special Education

The section on special education has been updated. A question has been added that clarifies that M.G.L. c 76 § 1 [i.e. that the instruction in all the studies required by law equals in thoroughness and efficiency, and in the progress made therein, that in the public schools in the same town], should apply equally to students who are eligible for special education services and those who are not.

The 2009 Draft has deleted the option for the school to appeal the parental decision to homeschool a child with special needs to the Bureau of Special Education Appeals, which is in line with the 2006 federal guidelines regarding consent override procedures.

While the Draft says a plan for a child with special needs must meet the standard set forth in M.G.L. c 76 § 1 (see above), it still seems to set a higher bar, adding that the district should consider whether the proposal equals in thoroughness and efficiency the special, [emphasis added] as well as the regular, education that the student would receive in the public school. The Draft does, however, acknowledge that the home-based plan does not need to detail services identical to those that the district would provide on an IEP.

Face-to-face meetings

The DESE has added to the Draft the question, May school districts require a face-to-face meeting as a condition of approval of a parent’s proposed home schooling plan? Their assessment is that a meeting may be required only if it is reasonable and essential in order to allow district officials to properly review or evaluate the proposal. Since AHEM’s data collection indicates that a majority of districts in Massachusetts have long conducted homeschool oversight without face-to-face meetings, meeting the standard of essential in a court of law would be very difficult. Still, a school official bent on requiring a face-to-face meeting with an unwilling parent as a condition of approval can make life stressful, even if the eventual outcome is that the meeting cannot be required.

What does the DESE Draft Advisory mean for homeschoolers in practice?

The Draft circulates even though it is not in final form, allowing the DESE to avoid including it in its public documents online, and thus far, avoiding dialogue with homeschool groups about its content. You may find that your local district has incorporated parts of the advisory into their policy even though the DESE does not have any authority to set homeschool policy in Massachusetts.

The best way to protect yourself from extralegal demands made by school officials, whether they are inspired by the DESE Draft Home Schooling Advisory or not, is to educate yourself about your rights and responsibilities as a homeschooling parent in Massachusetts.