Advocates for Home Education in Massachusetts, Inc.

To Meet or Not to Meet?

Many homeschoolers in Massachusetts are currently in the process of submitting the method of evaluation outlined in their approved education plans. According to AHEM’s database, for most that will be a progress report, but others may use test results or dated work samples. In this unusual homeschooling year, we’ve learned that some districts are asking to meet with homeschooling parents, and in some cases children, in order to perform their oversight function.

Are meetings required? This question has been floating around in Massachusetts for decades. As with many such questions in our state, there isn’t a definitive yes or no answer, because the Massachusetts courts have not taken up the question, as they have for home visits, for example.

Still, a look at the relevant statutes and case law, as well as common practice, points to the answer being “no.” In the unlikely event that this issue reached the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, many issues would be looked at, including whether meetings were essential to ensuring the state interest in the education of its children.

Thus, homeschoolers can politely say that they prefer to keep communications in writing, and submit the form of evaluation they included in their approved education plan.

What if a family in these circumstances chooses to meet with their school officials? Another question that often arises in this discussion involves whether or not all homeschoolers in the state would be negatively affected by some families acquiescing to meetings, or agreeing to comply with other gray area requests that likely don’t meet the standard of essential.

If a case did reach a higher court, the court would likely look at common practice in the process of making their decision. However, that examination would be only one part of a much broader study of the question at hand in relation to established statutes and constitutionality. And of course, this process would take years.

The possible ripple effects of overreporting, however, can be more immediate and direct. A superintendent who successfully pulls some parents and/or children into meetings may feel emboldened to push for more meetings or materials, and/or pressure all families in the district to follow suit. We also know that school districts in Massachusetts make extralegal requests of homeschoolers on a regular basis, and they share information. So, even if the law doesn’t change, the day-to-day reality for homeschoolers can get more difficult if a critical mass raises the bar of what school officials expect.

There may be some families who find that meeting with school officials is preferable, and even pleasant or helpful. Such instances may not have a detrimental effect on existing law. They may or may not cause officials to make greater demands on other families in the district.

Every family must make their own decisions about meeting, while hopefully keeping in mind the potential broader implications.