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No. 5

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Hashing Out the New Law

Vermont homeschoolers made real gains in the legislature this spring, but department of education employees have done a poor job of explaining the new law to families across the state. Homeschoolers have been dismayed at what seem to be arbitrary demands by education officials.

Home School Legal Defense Association spent several months monitoring House Bill 862, homeschool legislation drafted by the Vermont Department of Education. HSLDA was officially neutral on this bill until the legislature made enough changes to win our cautious support. Commissioner of Education Richard Cate met with HSLDA Staff Attorney Scott Somerville in December 2005. At this meeting, HSLDA agreed that the department could ask for an assessment in each area of the minimum course of study, but we also agreed that a certified teacher did not have to spell out any specific evidence to support that assessment. HSLDA’s ultimate support for H.B. 862 depended in large part upon our confidence in Cate's leadership.

Commissioner Cate has kept his promises, but his staff at the department of education have frustrated quite a few homeschoolers this spring. One key area of dispute has to do with end-of-year assessments. Homeschoolers have sent in assessments that meet all the criteria of existing law, but department employees have called back to say that the teachers performing the assessments must provide extra information. Eventually, the certified teachers will be required by H.B. 862 to use a new form to be prepared by the department of education, but the law has not yet gone into effect. The department’s premature demands have only served to antagonize homeschooling families.

HSLDA has communicated our concerns to education officials, with some positive results. We have been informed that our efforts have already resulted in some changes in the wording that will appear on future forms. HSLDA is committed to working with the department of education to make sure any new forms are clearly worded and consistent with the letter and the spirit of the new homeschool law.*

— by Scott W. Somerville

* See "A plethora of forms"