hybrid homeschooling is being bandied about a lot this summer, with one idea being that someone can homeschool, but drop their child off at some kind of
program for one or two days a week, or more. Other definitions might be homeschooling while taking some classes at the local public school, joining a co-op, or using accredited online programs while homeschooling.
Legally, part-time homeschooling does not exist in Massachusetts. You are either enrolled in school, or you are not. When a homeschooler takes classes at a public school, the school does not receive per pupil funding for that student. Theoretically it’s possible for an enrolled student to work out an arrangement with their school to do part of their schooling at home, but this would be up to individual schools, and is not common. So for enrollment, you’re either in or you’re out.
Co-ops, groups of families who come together and share in educating their children, have existed as long as homeschooling has. Co-ops run the gamut. One co-op might rent a space and have parents or hired instructors teach classes while parents and siblings gather on site, with some level of parental involvement required, and a fee to join. Another co-op might be a few families getting together once or twice a week at someone’s home, with parents rotating responsibility for planning activities. Yet another might be a group of families who get together once a week at a park for free play, and various activities branch off from that, planned by and for subsets of families.
Another manifestation of
hybrid homeschooling isn’t a hybrid at all. It’s simply homeschooling. As long as there have been homeschoolers, they have chosen to use the resources of their community to augment their experiences. Before the pandemic, there was a veritable explosion of museums, nature sanctuaries, tutoring centers, private instructors, performing arts organizations, and entrepreneurs marketing classes and activities to homeschoolers. The availability of homeschoolers to enroll in programs during daytime hours offered opportunity for otherwise empty spaces to be filled.
The popularity of à la carte offerings of local institutions was followed by the development of so-called
learning centers (also called
microschools). The whole idea of a
learning center, a place you go to in order to learn, runs counter to one of the most valuable tenets of homeschooling: learning happens everywhere, all the time. But learning centers do provide a place for parents to leave their children for several hours at a time, and sometimes for more than one day a week.
Where do learning centers, institutions where large groups of children are dropped off to be supervised by someone other than a parent, fit into the Massachusetts regulatory scheme? On the face of it, it would be logical to assume that they would be approved private schools (per Chapter 76, section 1 of the Massachusetts General Laws) that allow part-time participation of homeschoolers, or licensed day care centers. The reality is that many learning centers use homeschooling law to skirt these regulations, which exist to protect children and workers. Rather than jumping through the hoops necessary to get approval as a private school, or bearing the scrutiny to be licensed as a day care center, many learning centers simply require that in order to participate you be a homeschooler, meaning that you have in hand an approved education plan from your local district. The centers then invite you, at a cost, to drop your child off at their space.
As mentioned previously, homeschoolers have always taken advantage of opportunities for group classes, private teachers, and homeschool co-ops to supplement the learning they do at home. What’s relatively new is dropping your homeschooled child off for multiple days a week, or even full-time, at a building with a large group of other children and an adult who is in charge.
It is your duty as a parent to safeguard the well-being of your children. So if you choose to use a “learning center” as part of what will make homeschooling work for you, go in with eyes wide open and don’t be shy about asking pertinent questions:
- Are they approved by the local city or town as a private school?
- If not, are they a licensed day care provider?
- What health and safety protocols are in place, such as training in first aid, fire inspections, ratio of teachers to children?
- Are criminal background checks done for staff and volunteers?
- Do they carry insurance?
- What is their philosophy (educational, leadership structure) and what are their policies (safety, discipline, parental involvement)?
Homeschooling parents demanding this kind of accountability will strengthen and safeguard homeschooling itself.