Conform to Forms?
Although it is not required to fill out a school-generated form to homeschool in Massachusetts, some school officials find that forms make their lives easier, and so they ask homeschoolers to use them.
Some homeschoolers have a philosophical objection to filling out a form from the school. It is always fine to just submit your education plan instead of filling out the form. You may have some back and forth with the school about it.
Adapting the school’s form
For many homeschoolers, the form is not inherently repugnant, but is confusing since forms are never mentioned in Massachusetts law. Sometimes a school will send a form to fill out even after you have submitted your education plan. To deal with this, homeschoolers who are willing to submit their plan via form can simply cross out any items that are not required. Examples include:
- Grade level—grades are a school necessity, and do not need to exist for homeschoolers if that is not how you go about homeschooling. For instance, your child may be ahead of “grade level” in one area, behind in another, and on target in another. This is perfectly fine. What matters is progress. And homeschooling does not need to match the public school curriculum but must equal the local public school's “in thoroughness and efficiency.”
- Telephone number—some parents prefer to keep school correspondence in writing, so choose not to provide a phone number.
- Email address—email is a communication option that works for some, and not others.
You can also edit anything the school asks for that does not match up with your education plan, for instance, method of evaluation. School forms often do not have a box to check off for “progress report,” or their boxes include more than one form of evaluation as a single choice. If you do not see the method of evaluation that you plan to use as a single choice, write it in.
Forms may ask for “curriculum” and “textbooks” that lead homeschoolers to believe they have to use school materials or a boxed curriculum while in fact “teaching materials” run the gamut. The Brunelle court pointed out that …some of the most effective curricular materials…may not be tangible. For example, travel, community service, visits to educationally enriching facilities and places, and meeting with various resource people, can provide important learning experiences apart from the four corners of a text or workbook.(Brunelle at 518)
Further, sometimes forms created by the school district contain extralegal requests. In addition to parental qualifications, subjects, hours, materials, and form of evaluation, forms (or policies) ask to attach one or more of the following:
- Proof of residency and/or address
- Proof of occupancy
- Proof of parent’s identity
- Original or copy of student’s birth certificate or passport
- Proof of vaccination
According to AHEM’s data, most schools do not ask for these. Interestingly, these are things schools require from families who are enrolling their children in the public school. According to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s instructions to schools:
May a school district include home school [sic] students in the student enrollment count that the district reports to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for statistical and state funding purposes?
Home school [sic] students are not considered to be enrolled in a school district. Thus they cannot be counted as part of the school’s membership, for state reporting purposes, even if the school district allows them to participate in some extra-curricular or other school activities.
Homeschoolers are not to be registered or enrolled in the public school system, even if they are receiving special education services, and the school should not have a need for any documentation beyond a parent-generated education plan.
Meeting in the middle
If your school district has sent you a form, the path of least resistance is probably to fill out name and address of parent or guardian and student on the form, and then scrawl "See attached" on the rest of it and staple your education plan to the form. That way you are submitting your plan in accordance with the Charles decision, with a nod to accommodating their administrative organizing tool.
Remember that both the AHEM sample education plan and the sample progress report are modeled on the minimum that have been approved as an education plan and accepted as a progress report in Massachusetts. It is not unreasonable for school officials to ask for some more detail for either one. Familiarize yourself with this grey area by reading Tips for Writing Your Education Plan. Negotiating and working with school officials usually ends in getting approval for homeschooling.
This legal summary was not drafted by practicing lawyers and is not intended to constitute official legal advice, but rather is presented by AHEM volunteers and is based on their reading and understanding of Massachusetts homeschooling requirements as they have followed those requirements throughout the years. Readers still need to make their own decision on how best to proceed.