Reading the Massachusetts Homeschool Laws
At AHEM, our mission is to empower you as the homeschooling parent. While we are always happy to talk through issues you may be facing, our goal is to give you the tools you need to advocate for yourself. The AHEM website is chock full of resources to help you do just that.
As you educate your children, we encourage you to also educate yourself. Reading through case law may not be something you have ever done before and the task may seem daunting. We are here to help. Here we talk about who should read the laws and why, what they consist of, and how to read them.
Who and Why
Some come to homeschooling slowly after years of consideration, others are thrown into it rather roughly by circumstances beyond their control. If you are in the latter category, you don’t need to jump right into reading case law. It is okay to take time to get your feet under you. If you are in this situation, we have lots of resources to help you get started quickly, including but not limited to our sample education plan.
If you have been homeschooling for a little while or are considering it for the future, it is well worth your time to read the laws governing home education in Massachusetts.
Why is this important? The first and most obvious reason is that if you are doing something, especially something a little counter-cultural, that is governed by law and that comes with certain legal obligations, it is good to know what those are. The second is that there is a lot of misinformation out there about homeschooling requirements, both on the side of school districts and on the side of usually very well-intentioned homeschoolers. If you read the cases for yourself, you will be better equipped to vet your sources and to guard yourself against misinformation. Lastly, when you read the law for yourself, you will be empowered. If your town asks for more, you won’t need to panic but can respond with knowledge and confidence. Often being able to quote the law to one’s school board is enough to get them to back down from unreasonable demands.
Ready to begin? Next we will look at what to read, the regulations, and the major cases governing homeschooling in Massachusetts.
What to read
Massachusetts has no statute that specifically addresses homeschooling. Rather, homeschooling is governed by case law, in conjunction with applicable statutes. The following are the major laws and cases which govern homeschooling in the state.
There are a few sections of the General Laws of Massachusetts which are relevant for homeschoolers.
Chapter 76, Section 1is known as the compulsory attendance statute. Most of the details of this section do not apply to homeschoolers. The relevant sentence in Ch. 76 §1 is that: “ . . . such attendance [i.e., in a public or private school] shall not be required of a child … who is being otherwise instructed in a manner approved in advance by the superintendent or the school committee.” Homeschoolers in Massachusetts are “otherwise instructed.”
The Care and Protection of Charles – The Charles decision, as it is known, is the primary case which governs homeschooling in Massachusetts. If your reading time is limited, this is the one to prioritize. The case arises from a situation that began in 1985 in the town of Canton. At this time there was no guidance for parents or towns as to what could and couldn’t be required of homeschoolers. The school committee voted to deny the parents permission to educate their children at home. The case made its way to the Supreme Court of Massachusetts where it was decided in 1987. The court recognized that parents of school age children have the basic constitutional right to educate their children, and the school committee of the town in which they reside could protect the State's interest in the education of its citizens by enforcing, through the approval process, reasonable requirements, factors that may be considered in determining whether to approve a home education plan in Massachusetts. Charles and the guidelines it set forth have been referenced in subsequent cases.
Michael Brunelle & Others vs. Lynn Public Schools – The Brunelle case was decided in 1998 and arose when the Lynn School Committee pushed homeschooling families for home visits as a requirement for approval of home education plans. The court not only ruled that home visits were unnecessary but also emphasized the protected right of parents to raise their children without unnecessary government intrusion on familial privacy and acknowledged the “non-institutional” nature of homeschooling.
How to Read
Here are some tips for reading through the case law the first time:
Read a summary first. It can be helpful to read a summary or condensed version first to get an idea of what is coming. (In our homeschool we have found this is very true for Shakespeare–reading a shorter narrative version of a play before seeing it or reading the original can help get one’s bearings.) AHEM provides summaries of the Charles and Brunelle decisions to get you started.
Look at the big picture and notice what sections there are in the case. Legal decisions are written in a certain way and if we know what to expect, we will be able to work our way through more easily. It may be helpful to print out the case and to mark off the sections.
In general, expect to find the following sections:
- Identifying information, including case numbers and dates
- A summary of the decision
- A history of the case, i.e. how the parties got to be before the court
- A discussion of the issues, perhaps including arguments from both sides
- The decision(s) of the court
Understanding these different sections can help us avoid potential confusion. For instance, the discussion section may include arguments from both sides but these are not necessarily the opinions of the court. On the other hand, seeing what issues and factors the court considered may give some insight into how they might decide future cases.
Read with an open mind. Understandably, many homeschoolers value minimal governmental intrusion into what they consider parental decisions. While the Charles court recognized parents’ rights in determining how their children will be educated, it also acknowledged the state’s interest in the education of its citizenry. The decision seeks to balance these two interests.