Across the States
East Providence Guarantees “Heads up” for Policy Changes
East Providence recently became the first town in the state to adopt a written homeschool policy guaranteeing that homeschoolers will be notified before changes to the policy are considered.
The long path to improvement began in March 2002 when homeschoolers began meeting with Superintendent Jacqueline Forbes and other officials to discuss problems arising under the town’s homeschool policy. An improved policy was drafted during the spring and summer, but progress ground to a halt as school committee members became busy with elections in the fall. The superintendent’s attention was drawn away to other matters, and subsequent efforts to get the project moving again were unfruitful.
But in August 2009, Home School Legal Defense Association Senior Counsel Scott Woodruff noticed that a new superintendent and assistant superintendent had been appointed, possibly creating an opportunity for a fresh start. Rob and Sue Caputo (names changed to protect privacy), longtime members of HSLDA and the Rhode Island Guild of Home Teachers, contacted Woodruff and offered to provide local leadership on the issue. It was personal for them: the same type of paperwork that East Providence had accepted from them for years was unexpectedly deemed inadequate as the 2009—10 school year began. The Caputos knew of at least one other family with the same experience.
The Caputos and Woodruff discussed strategy and objectives and launched a new reform effort. They soon learned that a very supportive member of the school administration, Robert Rodericks, had recently retired. Unsure of how she would be received, Sue set up an appointment to meet with Dr. Caroline Caswell, a new assistant superintendent.
Sue found Caswell very supportive. The two established a cordial relationship and came up with a plan to develop a homeschool policy that would respect the freedom of families and also line up with state law. Woodruff sent Sue copies of some good homeschool policies from other localities. Five or six local families came on board to provide feedback and assistance.
There was considerable give-and-take during negotiations between school representatives and the homeschoolers. In the end, however, consensus developed, and a very good policy was submitted to the school committee. The policy said that families could begin homeschooling immediately upon filing their notice of intent—an excellent feature that is currently found in some town policies. Mandatory meetings with school officials were eliminated. The requirement for a family to explain why they were homeschooling was dropped. Attendance and evaluation issues were handled sensibly.
But the draft also contained a tremendously helpful “heads up” feature never before seen in a town policy: “If any change of policy toward homeschooling is being formally considered, all parents who are currently on record as homeschooling in East Providence will be provided written notice.”
Woodruff had suggested this provision after the North Kingstown school committee arbitrarily added new and illogical burdens for homeschooling families—without ever telling them that any policy changes were even being contemplated. North Kingstown families were blindsided and forced to do a rear-guard action to correct the problems.
On December 8, 2009, the East Providence school committee formally adopted the consensus policy. Relationships between homeschool families and school officials were deepened and strengthened during the process, laying in a foundation of community goodwill.
— by Scott A. Woodruff