Approval Disputes Continue
Connecticut and Rhode Island
Problems have begun to surface in Connecticut and Rhode Island recently, due to those states’ requirements that home schoolers obtain the approval of their local superintendents. Families in both states have been negotiation with their schools districts over many issues such as testing and home visits prior to presenting their proposal to their school boards for approval. While these two states have not posed many problems in the past, the wording of their laws (i.e. their lack of specific standards and their requirements for approval) makes it possible that problems will continue to increase.
In Connecticut, the Napolitanos and the Hales both succeeded in getting their school boards’ approval after HSLDA’s Mike Farris intervened regarding testing and other issues.
In Rhode Island, a few families have technically been given approval, contingent upon their adherence to a series of stipulations drawn up by the school district. The requirements, some of which are unacceptable to the families, include attendance and progress reports, and annual standardized testing at the public schools, which is not required by the statute. The Thifault and Gargano families are appealing their districts’ decisions to the Rhode Island Commissioner of Education, specifically seeking the right to test their children at home, instead of at the public schools. The statute provides for such appeals to the Commissioner of unfavorable school board decisions.
In both of these states, it remains to be seen whether the statutes will continue to be interpreted to allow home schoolers to operate with reasonable reporting and other requirements. Such approval statutes are generally on the decline as many states pass new home schooling laws, but they continue to cause problems throughout the nation in the states in which they remain.
In Maine, a home school program may qualify as “equivalent instruction” if it is approved by the local school board. If a home education program is rejected, the home schooler has the right to appeal to the state commissioner.
Presently, there are several local school districts making it very difficult on home schoolers. The Presque Isle District has been denying approval to all home education programs.
The HSLDA legal staff intervened on behalf of the Thibault family in Presque Isle when their home education program was denied without justification by the school board last July. The family appealed to the State Commissioner of Education and the decision was reversed so the family could legally home school their children.
More recently, two other member families were denied in Presque Isle. One family, the Griffins, had been improperly denied the right to home school last year and the State Commissioner revered that decision. The Griffins were denied the right to home school again this year even though the local school district recognized that the family had met the state'’s regulations. Another family, the Francis family, was also arbitrarily denied the right to home school in spite of their compliance with the statute. HSLDA’s Executive Director, Chris Klicka, has appealed both of these denials to the state commissioner and has also requested that the Preque Isle school district be investigated for refusing to follow the Commissioner’s regulations.
Earlier this year, Attorney Klicka filed an Amiscus Curiae, or Friend of the Court brief, in the Blout v. State of Maine (Law Court Docket #KEN-87-473) case before the Maine Supreme Court. This case challenges Maine’s approval system as unconstitutional.
Massachusetts requires prior approval by the superintendent or the school committee in order to home school. This year, the HSLDA legal staff has enabled many families to be recognized as legal home schools. Several school districts are requiring home visits as a means of monitoring home schools.
The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts case Care and Protection of Charles, 504 N.E.2d 592 (Mass. 1987), delineates four areas of inquiry about a home school, the most controversial of which is evaluation. There are three options of evaluation from which a parent can choose: standardized tests, progress reports or home visits.
However, some school districts try to choose the method for the parents, or to apply all three methods of evaluation. HSLDA is working to prevent school districts from enforcing all three options. The Springfield and Sharon school districts have presented the most problems in this area. have presented the most problems in this area.
Recently, the decision in the New Life Baptist Church Academy v. Town of East Longmeadow, 666 F. Supp. 293 (D. Mass. 1987) was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals (First Circuit). Constitutional attorney Richard Gay of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, is the lead counsel in this case. On behalf of HSLDA, attorney Klicka is preparing an Amicus Curiae (Friend of the Court) brief for submission to the court in support of the lower court decision. The New Life case ruled that, under the First objection to prior approval, the state may only test the children and follow up on test results to ensure the education of the children. The approval process is not necessary to achieve the state’s interest. Based on this precedent, parents who have a sincere religious conviction against seeking approval of their home school program may be excused from the state’s approval requirements.