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Court Rulings on Home Education in Massachusetts: Overview

Care and Protection of Charles (1987): Four things that school officials can (not must) ask homeschooling parents to provide:

    1. an educational plan
    2. information about the parents' qualifications
    3. a review of texts, but only to determine the type of subjects taught and the grade level of the child
    4. information on academic progress

Brunelle (1998): School officials may not mandate home visits as a condition of approval.

While the State can insist that the child's education be moved along in a way which can be objectively measured, it cannot apply institutional standards to this non-institutionalized setting.

We urge you to become thoroughly familiar with Charles and Brunelle, to know their provisions and language. Charles mentions that there are certain areas of inquiry or supervision that are not "within the legitimate authority" of the school district; other matters are not mentioned in Charles at all. We also strongly suggest that you read between the lines to discover what is NOT included. Occasionally a school district may mistakenly ask for information that is not required. While the following should not be taken as a substitute for legal advice, we suggest that you reflect on these perspectives as you read the full text of the Court's decisions.

Thirteen Points: Perspectives on the Charles and Brunelle Decisions

1. While an educational plan may be requested, a program that duplicates that of the public school is not required. You need only provide a program that is equivalent. For example, you do not need to cover Australia with your ten-year old just because the local school includes it in their fifth grade course of study.

2. While the school district may inquire about your qualifications, Charles does not require that you provide a school system with your transcripts. Charles does not even require you be a college graduate. While a school may ask for college transcripts for those whom they wish to employ, asking for transcripts to inquire about a homeschooling parent's qualifications may be beyond the legitimate authority of the school.

3. Access to instructional materials is permitted BUT ONLY to determine the type of subjects taught and the grade level of the child. In Massachusetts there is no list of approved texts as in other states. You have a great deal of freedom to select materials. If asked, most families simply list their resources or copy the text's table of contents. Charles dates from 1987, before current advances in educational technology. The Court's 1998 decision in Brunelle indicates an understanding that instructional materials may include travel, community service, films, internet coursework, mentored apprenticeships, visits to educationally enriching facilities and places, meeting with various resource people etc.

4. Assessment is permitted. While Charles permits a school to use a standardized test at the end of the year, other methods of evaluation such as portfolios, interviews, anecdotal records, signing off by a third party, etc. can be used. In good educational practice, assessment is aligned with curriculum and methodology. Thus, if you use a text-based curriculum that includes multiple-choice quizzes, and your child was familiar with test-taking strategies, a standardized test might be an appropriate means of evaluation. If, however, your program is more flexible, then other forms of evaluation should be considered and negotiated.

5. Your rationale for deciding to homeschool is not required. School officials do not need to know your rationale. If it is known to them they do not need to agree with it. You do not need to convince school officials that your program is better or more appropriate than those delivered by the school. You don't have to explain your rationale or defend it. You simply can say, "This is the right thing for our family at this time." The school cannot legitimately evaluate your educational plan on motive, only on content. Your rationale is extraneous information; your plan should speak for itself.

6. Information on socialization is not required. You do not even need to provide group socialization via outings, gatherings, group instruction or group discussions. While your child will probably participate in group situations, it is not within the legitimate authority of the school to ask about group processes or require them.

7. A daily schedule matched to that of the school calendar is not required. Under the 1993 Educational Reform Act, public school students are required to receive 990 hours of directed instructional time per year at the secondary level (900 at the elementary level; check to see where your town has placed middle school grades). It is still not clear if private schools and those otherwise educated, which includes homeschoolers, are required to meet this hourly requirement, since it hasn't been addressed by the courts. However, if pressed to answer the question of time, you can assure school officials that the hours will be covered....but in a flexible manner. Because homeschool instruction needs only to be equivalent, not duplicate, you may consider certain hours when the local school is not in session as instructional time. This means that your equivalent schedule can include instructional time during the evening, on weekends, on snow days, during vacation periods, while traveling, while utilizing the internet and educational technology. Most school buildings are only open for instruction 180 days, and the length of the school day is determined by local collective bargaining agreement. Homeschoolers are not bound by collective bargaining and can utilize time in ways different from those expected of classroom teachers. However, the school system's year runs from July 1 through June 30. Because of homeschooling's flexibility you can use a 12-month school year instead of a 10- month one. This concept is called year-round schooling.

8. Information about your employment schedule is not required. While the school may have a legitimate interest in validating that there is coverage during instructional hours, asking for information about the child's non-instructional time is beyond their legitimate authority. Schools do not check the work schedules of their students' parents during summer vacation. Nor should they inquire about your child-care arrangements during non-instructional time.

9. Your methods and instructional practices, the manner in which you teach, may differ from that of the school. Charles was quite clear that it was beyond the scope of the school's authority to require any certain method of instruction. The Brunelle opinion acknowledges that school officials cannot expect to apply institutional standards to non-institutional settings.

10. A statement of student willingness to be homeschooled is not required. Parents have a right to select educational options for their minor children. Districts do not ask for a statement of student willingness to attend private or parochial school. Nor should they request homeschoolers to submit this information.

11. The names of persons living in the home is not required. However, this is public information that the school can find in town census records. There is no upper limit on the number of children a family can homeschool, nor are there restrictions on who may be included in the household.

12. Permits required for public buildings are not required for your homeschooling residence. Your residential occupancy permit is enough.

13. Information regarding the qualifications of persons you hire to provide educational services is not required. Charles says that a school system can ask about the parents' qualifications...not the rest of their support team or those to whom they delegate instruction. The school signs off on the parent as the primary educator. The primary educator then makes decisions (including the purchase of instructional services) that implement the educational plan.

By Loretta Heuer


Massachusetts Home Learning Association

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