Maine and Massachusetts Resolve Conflicts
Maine, which has required home schools to be approved, has enacted new legislation which better protects home schoolers' constitutional right to operate.
Legislative Victory in Maine
Attorney Rob Gregory of Damariscotta spearheaded efforts to change the compulsory attendance statute in Maine to take away the state's approval power and reduce the home schoolers' requirements to a notice of intent similar to that used by the non-approved private schools. In consultation with HSLDA, Gregory drafted L.D. 1317 and submitted it to the legislature. A hearing was held before the education committee on May 24, 1989. HSLDA executive director, Chris Klicka was scheduled to testify but he was involved in a head on collision and was experiencing kidney stone attacks. His testimony was sent to Gregory who read it into the record. Klicka urged passage of the bill pointing out the abuse of discretion and threats of prosecution common by the local school districts. He also demonstrated that the bill would define home schools, recognize non-approved private schools, and take away the arbitrary discretion of the school districts.
Gregory also testified along with many of the other home school leaders from around the state. Over 500 people showed up for the hearing. Prior to the hearing Ed and Kathy Green and Steve Moitozo of the Maine Home School Association effectively urged home schoolers to write and visit their representatives and to attend this hearing and one that was held earlier in the year.
After the hearing, the behind-the-scenes negotiations intensified. After many hours talking with the sponsors of the bill, Gregory was able to help draft a new bill which was more compatible with the committee.
The new version of the bill was quickly passed by both houses. This new bill achieved several objectives although it did not get rid of approval. First of all, it amended the compulsory attendance law to specifically recognize the right to home school by actually referring to “home instruction.” Secondly, it removed all discretionary authority from the local school district reducing their function to merely collecting information from the home schoolers pursuant to the State Boards' regulations. Lastly, the bill amended the compulsory attendance law to officially recognize the legal status of non-approved private schools which had been previously recognized by the Bangor case.
Under this new law, the home schoolers will basically be dealing solely with the State Department of Education which in the past has been favorable to home schoolers. Congratulations to all the home schoolers in Maine who worked together to improve the law.
Massachusetts Waiting on New Life
In February, the First Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, heard oral arguments by Attorney Richard Gay concerning New Life Baptist Church Academy v. Town of East Longmeadow, 666 F.Supp.293 (1987). The lower court ruled in favor of a Christian school that was opposed to state approval on religious grounds. The lower court struck down the extensive approval requirements of East Longmeadow and stated the school need only submit standardized test scores in lieu of seeking approval. The decision was appealed by the school district to the First Circuit. This case has been a tremendous help to the HSLDA legal staff in protecting the rights of all those home school parents who have religious beliefs against approval.
Please be praying that the First Circuit will affirm this decision.
Massachusetts School Districts Harass Home Schoolers
Meanwhile, HSLDA continues to help families in many school districts which are trying to impose excessive restrictions on home schoolers. For example, in Walpole, an HSLDA family was told by their school district that they would have to submit to home visits and the statewide testing program. In Narragansett and Sharon, home school families were being required to submit to home visits with the latter school district requiring up to ten home visits annually. In Worcester, the school district wanted testing, home visits, and progress reports. Other school districts, like Boston and Cambridge, want families to register with the public school in order to be approved.
In each instance, the HSLDA legal staff advised the families that unwanted home visits violated their right to privacy and their Fourth Amendment rights. Also the Supreme Judicial Court only requires home school parents to submit to one form of evaluation and it can be the form of their choice; either progress reports, testing or home visits. Furthermore, the state has no authority to require home schoolers to register with the public school.
As a result of HSLDA intervention, all of these school districts backed off of their restrictive requirements.