The Home School Court Report
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MAY / JUNE 2002
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Sheffield turns nasty

When the S. family decided to home school, they weren't expecting problems. Both parents have graduate degrees. The children, although young, were already doing quite advanced work. The parents chose reputable instructional materials and informed the school of their intention to put in at least six hours of academic work for at least 180 days each year. Their notice of intent was a model of courtesy, completeness, and simplicity.

When their school district received the notice of intent, however, things stopped being simple. The district asked the parents to come in for a meeting with school officials. On advice from Home School Legal Defense Association, the family politely declined the meeting. They wrote,

We certainly wish to work with you in a productive relationship. However, prior legal cases in Massachusetts have established the nature of the relationship between home schooling families and school districts. It is our understanding that requiring meetings with families is not required under Massachusetts law.

The district fired off a letter to the Massachusetts Commissioner of Education. Superintendent William Cooper wrote, "About 95% of our home-school parents are quite forthcoming about plans, progress reports, portfolios, etc…. A small percentage are hostile to any efforts made by school personnel to check on the curriculum being followed or the academic progress being made." After another paragraph of complaints, Superintendent Cooper wondered whether it would be appropriate to turn uncooperative families over to the Division of Social Services.

The Massachusetts Department of Education has been slow to answer questions like this in the past. Time after time, lawyers from HSLDA have had to walk school districts through the basics of the law. As experienced Massachusetts home schoolers know, families have a constitutional right to direct the education of their own children, and this right has been recognized and protected by the Massachusetts courts. While school districts may inquire about certain subjects, they have no power to demand meetings or to punish families who respectfully decline to meet with school officials. Social workers have a duty to investigate allegations of child abuse or neglect, but home schooling is not neglect and HSLDA routinely takes care of minor contacts with misguided social workers.

It may take some time, but Sheffield will eventually discover that home schoolers have every right to decline a meeting with school officials. Please pray for the S. family as they help to educate their school district!

- Scott W. Somerville