Like most New England states, Maine is an “approval” state. Therefore, local school districts have the authority under the law to “approve” or “disapprove” a family for home instruction. This creates a difficult situation for home schooling families because each individual school district sets up its own policy for home instruction. However, unlike some other “approval states,” the State Board of Education has the power to reverse a local school board’s decision, so an administrative appeal to the State Board can be utilized before litigation ensues.
NEW REGULATIONS ADOPTED
Recently, new regulations have been adopted in Maine which alter the approval process significantly. While the new regulations do describe in greater detail what local boards and the State Board are to consider in determining whether or not a home education program provides “equivalent instruction,” the language remains somewhat vague and still allows school districts to have “approval”authorized.
HSLDA had written several amendments to the regulations which would have removed the state and local school board’s authority to approve home schools. Under HSLDA’s amendments home schoolers would no longer have been subject to the discretionary and often arbitrary authority of local school boards. Instead, school boards would only have had the power to collect information and testing or evaluation results.
In addition, the HSLDA amendments also included a provision for a religious exemption and attacked the state’s new requirement for students identified as needing special education. The state’s proposal required that Individualized Education Programs (IEP’s) be established for such children “including instruction and supportive services by qualified providers,’ and that the “Pupil Evaluation Team shall review and revise the IEP at least annually.” Fortunately, this provision for restrictive requirements for handicapped were defeated and removed by the efforts of the Maine home schoolers and HSLDA.
In June, Chris Klicka traveled to Augusta, Maine, to discuss the proposed regulations with State Board of Education officials, and presented them with a copy of HSLDA’s proposed amendments. The Board seemed willing to consider the amendments and listened attentively to reasons for the changes. Hundreds of home schoolers also attended the hearing. The new regulations which become effective on November 1, made several positive changes: 1) approval in one school district can be transferred to another; 2) local school districts can make exceptions to the 30 day rule which required home schoolers to notify the school district 30 days in advance; 3) local rules must be consistent with state regulations; 4) and the Commissioner can reverse disapprovals without convening the special committee in cases of obvious abuse by local school districts.
The Thibault family has been denied approval by the local school district to home school during the 1988–90 school year. The Presque Isle School District denied the family even though they had met the state requirement. This school district has a history of denying families on philosophical grounds when there are no educational grounds for disapproval.
BLOUNT CASE UPDATE
Meanwhile, Blount v. State of Maine, No. CV-86-494, Superior Court of Kennebec County, September 16, 1987, is in the process of being appealed to the Maine Supreme Court. As readers may recall, the judge in this case ruled that the Blounts’ home school could not operate as a “non-approved private school.” However, the court stated that if a school has at least two children and those two children are unrelated, that school is a non-approved private school even though the school building is a home. The court also ruled that if two related families with eight children teach their children under one roof, such a school is not a non-approved private school in the State of Maine.
Although the Blount family established that the state’s approval requirements violated their religious beliefs, the judge further stated that the approval process is the “least restrictive means” of fulfilling the state’s interest in education. This decision is clearly in contradiction with several higher court decisions which have found that such approval requirements unduly burden religious convictions.
Sam Lanham of Bangor, the attorney for the Blounts, has appealed the case to the Maine Supreme Court. In August, Chris Klicka will be filing an amicus (friend of the court) brief against the decision and in favor of the Blounts.
Hopefully, through a favorable court decision, Maine home schoolers will no longer be subject to an arbitrary approval system.