Policies Must Be in Keeping with Court Decisions
This document aims to assist
school district officials in understanding the Commonwealth's home education
law so that they may align their policies with that law. Be reviewing
the relevant statutes and court decisions when developing home education
policies, school districts will be able to ensure that their policies
and language do not go outside the boundaries of statutory language and
Legitimate considerations for
school officials who are reviewing home education proposals are delineated
in two Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decisions:
and Protection of Charles (1987)
The Supreme Judicial Court
ruled that school committees may enforce certain reasonable educational
requirements in the case of home education. The Court also cautioned
superintendents and school committees that homeschool approvals must
not be conditioned on requirements that are not essential to the State
interest in ensuring that "all children shall be educated." The Court
then issued some guidelines for approval of home education proposals.
v. Lynn Public Schools (1998)
In this unanimous Supreme
Judicial Court Opinion, the Court ruled that home visits could not be
mandated as a condition of approval of a home education plan. The decision
also observed that "in certain important ways [home education] can never
be the equivalent of in-school education." The Court ruled that any
requirement made in evaluating home education proposals must be not
only reasonable, but also essential.
Each school district maintains
its own home education policies, which must be in keeping with the guidelines
of these two court cases.
Ten Points from the Supreme Judicial
observations on the rulings are included in red italics following each
"[H]ome education proposals can be made subject
only to essential and reasonable requirements" Brunelle
in Brunelle noted that parents have a protected right to raise their
children and further that "'the government may not intrude unnecessarily
on familial privacy,'" [Curtis v. School Comm. Of Falmouth as cited
in Brunelle at 519]
In denying the Lynn
School Committee the right to require home visits of all families seeking
approval for a home education plan, the Court observed that Lynn had
failed to make the case that such visits were essential to protection
of the State's interest in seeing that children receive an education.
the reasoning of the Court, it is appropriate to consider every requirement
by a school committee in terms of whether or not it is essential in
order to carry out the review and approval of the education plan.
Charles determined that home education came under this provision of the
General Law: that superintendents shall approve instruction that "equals
in thoroughness and efficiency, and in the progress made therein, that in
the public school in the same town." General
Laws Chap 76 The
school committee may enforce "certain reasonable educational requirements
similar to those required for public and private schools."
nor Brunelle discusses specifically what "equal in thoroughness
and efficiency" means. Still, statements of the Court can provide
a. Charles states
that the superintendent may require some form of assessment to "ensure
educational progress and the attainment of minimum standards." Charles
at 340 Here the Court indicates that homeschoolers should not be
held to any higher standard than the minimum required of public school
b. Brunelle states
that the superintendent can "insist that the child's education be
moved along in a way which can be objectively measured," but he
"cannot apply institutional standards to this non-institutional setting."
Brunelle at 517
[see ruling #10 for the full citation from
c. Charles states
that the superintendent may not "dictate the manner in which the
subjects will be taught." Such a policy would "involve the school
authorities in an activity beyond the legitimate scope of the State
interest involved." Charles
d. Charles, quoting
an earlier case, observes that "the great object of these provisions
of the [compulsory attendance] statutes has been that all children shall
be educated, not that they shall be educated in any particular way."
Charles at 337
the reasoning of the court, it is appropriate that:
The superintendent not look for replication of the public schools'
grade equivalent educational offerings. A home educated student
may study certain subjects and acquire certain skills at different
stages in the learning sequence than those planned for in the public
school curriculum plan.
superintendent not require the progress of home educated students
to be exemplary in any way.
superintendent expect a very broad range of progress from home educated
students, just as is expected from the students in his schools.
superintendent not expect homeschooled students to follow the curriculum
of the public school 'just in case' the student may subsequently
be enrolled in that school. There is no legitimate justification
for such an expectation.
Charles provided guidance that school committees MAY use.
In 1987, Charles
offered "guidance on the extent to which approval of a home school
proposal may be conditioned on certain requirements without infringing
on the liberty interests of the parents under the Fourteenth Amendment."
Charles at 337
The guidance in
Charles is reiterated in Brunelle.
that Charles says "may," not must. Some superintendents
choose the route of minimal oversight. Such a route can be justified
by the fact that there is no evidence or indication that more stringent
district oversight results in greater progress for home educated students.
commitment is the most important single factor in student educational
progress. See "Parental
Involvement" article. Homeschool
parents clearly have such involvement, and their involvement exists
independently of any district oversight. See
research by Brian
Guidance about subjects taught.
Charles lists the
subjects that are required in G. L. c. 71 §1. "Specifically, § 1
requires 'instruction and training in orthography, reading, writing,
the English language and grammar, geography, arithmetic, drawing, music,
the history and constitution of the United States, the duties of citizenship,
health education, physical education and good behavior." Charles
General Laws require training in these subjects over the course of
the child's education. No particular subject is required to be taught
in any given year.
Guidance about competency of parents.
that the parents need not be certified teachers, nor need they have
college or advanced academic degrees.
shows that credentials of the parent have little to do with achievement
of the child. See research by Patricia
Lines, also by Lawrence Rudner
and Brian Ray.
experience shows us that parents who are "so committed to home education
that they are willing to forgo the public schools, and devote substantial
time and energy to teaching their children" (Brunelle 518) are well
able to facilitate their children's learning.
are often facilitators, finding resources to help children learn.
We have discovered that some of the most effective learning actually
happens when parent and child are learning together; children are
motivated by the awareness that they themselves can contribute to
an adult's learning process.
Guidance about hours of instruction.
Though the superintendent
may consider the
length of the school year and the hours of instruction in each subject,
it's important to note that there is no state requirement for
a certain number of hours in a certain subject. The Department of Education,
its website, confirms that "there is no regulation requiring
a certain number of hours for any subject."
that the Court does not mention that the school district may require
parents to provide a specific schedule.
homeschooling occurs in a non-institutional setting, most students
excel with fewer hours of formal instruction than is required in the
See Court rulings point 10
Guidance about instructional materials.
for the superintendent or school committee to have access to textbooks,
workbooks, and other instructional aids, as well as to lesson plans
and teaching manuals. The Court observes that
this access is necessary "only to determine the type of subjects
to be taught and the grade level of the instruction for comparison purposes
with the curriculum of the public schools. The superintendent or school
committee may not use this access to dictate the manner in which the
subjects will be taught. This would involve the school authorities in
an activity beyond the legitimate scope of the State interest involved."
Charles at 339
that "some of the most effective curricular materials that the plaintiffs
may use 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
have the enviable ability to customize learning materials to the students'
abilities and specific interests. The parents are free to select whatever
materials are effective; superintendents do not "approve"
homeschoolers' instructional materials.
Guidance about evaluation
for various means of assessment: periodic
standardized testing or other means of evaluating the children's progress.
Other means may include "periodic progress
reports or dated work samples." Charles
standardized testing is used, Charles provides that "in consultation
with parents, the school authorities may decide where the testing is
to occur and the type of testing instrument to be used. Where practical,
a neutral party should administer the test." Charles
the years since Charles was decided, professional educators have been
turning their attention to alternative assessment practices, and there
is now a growing body of literature on the subject. See
ERIC Digest article
1987 most school assessment was generally equated with testing, although
homeschool families often used portfolios, work products, and reports
wisely kept the door open for such emerging assessment techniques,
which, indeed, have become commonplace in schools, as well as homeschools,
during the past decade.
Home visits cannot be mandated.
The Brunelle case
decided that issue. The Court ruled that "school officials cannot,
in the absence of consent, require home visits, as a condition of approval
of the [parents'] home education plans." Brunelle
at 519 The ruling rested on the finding that "the home visits
sought to be imposed on the education proposals of the plaintiffs are
not essential." Brunelle
Institutional standards cannot be applied to this non-institutionalized
From the Brunelle
who teach at home stand in a very different relationship to their children
than do teachers to a class full of other peoples' children. Teaching
methods may be less formalized, but in the home setting may be more
effective than those used in the classroom because the teacher-to-student
ratio is maximized, a factor permitting close communication and monitoring
on an individualized basis. It is obvious from these differences that,
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." Brunelle
the Court implicitly recognizes that individualized instruction of
their own children allows parents a flexibility impossible in the
classroom. Superintendents may not impede on that flexibility by making
nonessential requirements of parents.