Are Massachusetts Homeschoolers Entitled to Participate in Public School Classes and Activities?
At some point in their homeschooling experience, for varied and personal reasons, families may seek out classes, extracurricular activities, or athletic programs offered by their local school district.
One might assume that a homeschooling family paying property taxes in their town would be entitled to gain full access to public school offerings, but it’s not quite that simple. Not all residents of a town or district who pay property taxes use the public schools. More significantly, homeschoolers are not enrolled students, which means that school districts do not receive state, municipal, or federal funds to cover per pupil expenditures for them. In Massachusetts, decisions regarding homeschoolers’ participation in any public school offerings are made at the discretion of local districts.
Athletic teams are often highly selective and have limited slots available even for enrolled students. The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA), a private, not-for-profit organization organized by its member schools, stipulates that homeschooled students are eligible to participate in MIAA-sponsored interscholastic athletics if certain conditions are met.
Because the MIAA is not a state regulatory agency but rather a group of schools who self-govern and coordinate their own athletic programs, their policy removes obstacles to homeschoolers’ participation, but does not guarantee access. MIAA member schools still have the final say when it comes to allowing homeschooled students to join their athletic teams. The same holds true for any other school offerings such as classes or extracurricular activities.
Given that approval or denial of homeschoolers’ participation in public school activities occurs at the local level, how best can a family negotiate with their district to obtain their desired result?
Some families have found that a specific and individual approach works best; that is, they formulate and submit a proposal based on the particular activities their child is interested in rather than ask the district to create a blanket policy for all homeschoolers. Taking into account considerations such as costs (including a demonstrated willingness to cover them out-of-pocket), scheduling, enrollment and tryout procedures conveys an attitude of cooperation and a willingness to meet the district halfway in terms of any administrative challenges the proposed participation may pose.
Since the decision to homeschool is in essence a decision to opt out of public schooling, it can be helpful to acknowledge the potential for the district to deny a request for participation and if need be explore alternative avenues such as dual enrollment, private athletic clubs or leagues, and other classes or tutors. A homeschooled student whose request has been denied can also formally appeal to the local school committee, which can be a learning process in and of itself.
No matter the outcome, working creatively to support a child’s interests and gain access to community resources (school or otherwise) to support them can ultimately be one of the most valuable experiences a homeschooling family will have.