The Home School Court Report
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Cover Story
Home Visits Ruled Unconstitutional by Mass. Supreme Judicial Court

Special Features
A Scorecard for the 105th Congress

Another Home Schooling Statesman

National Center Reports
Vocational Education Bill Passes With Protection

Preparing for the 106th Congress

FDIC Drafts “Know Your Customer” Regulations

Children’s Scholarship Fund Moves Forward

Free Computers for Home Schoolers

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Press Clippings
Home school visits blocked
Parents can decline them, court rules

In a major victory for home schoolers that also serves as a warning to school districts statewide, Massachusetts’ highest court yesterday ruled that Lynn school officials have no right to visit homes to see how parents teach their children.
    Capping a seven-year lawsuit over parents’ rights to teach children any way they choose, the ruling comes at a critical time for home schoolers: As their numbers have quadrupled in the past decade to an estimated 4,500 statewide, hundreds of families are struggling to understand their rights in vaguely written laws and court rulings. . . .“We’re just thrilled with the decision,” said Stephen Pustell, 44, a computer analyst who has four children. The city’s job “is to know that children are being educated, not to educate them.”
    The court did not rule on the constitutionality of visiting home schoolers and instead relied on a much simpler argument: There is no state law that says school districts can require home visits. The court also re-emphasized parents’ long-standing rights to educate their children in the best way they see fit.
    “It’s a big victory with national significance,” said Michael Farris, a lawyer from the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association who represented the parents. “Home school laws are in constant flux. If this decision would have gone the other way, we think there would have been copycat school districts all over the country.”
    . . . the SJC said there is no valid reason to consider home visits essential today to meet the state goal of ensuring all children are being properly educated.
    “Teaching methods may be less formalized, but in the home setting may be more effective . . .” Justice John Greaney wrote.
    While not directly endorsing home schooling, the court said officials need to trust that parents who choose home school over public school are capable of educating their children—although it may be in a different way than a public school.
    “We doubt that parents like the [Brunelles and Pustells], who are so committed to home education that they are willing to forgo the public schools and devote substantial time and energy to their children, will let the children’s progress suffer for lack of adequate instructional space,” he wrote.

—Beth Daley and John Ellement, The Boston Globe, December 17, 1998

Home-school victory

A recent ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court could have national repercussions for the growing home-school movement. It could also add validity to the general concept of parental choice in education.
    Culminating a seven-year legal battle, the court found that public school officials may not require home visits designed to oversee home conditions and parental teaching methods. In its opinion, the court emphasized what it called parents’ longstanding right to educate their children in the best way they see fit.
    The case began in 1991 when a couple challenged a Lynn, Mass., school board policy requiring home-school operations be observed periodically by public school officials. It picked up steam in 1994, when another home-schooling couple faced criminal charges for objecting to the policy and refusing to submit their educational plans to the board. Though the criminal charges were dropped, the validity of the board’s policy remained as the crux of the suit.
    The idea of a school board demanding that the teaching ability of parents be checked must have struck many Massachusetts residents as ludicrous. Until this past spring, Massachusetts was one of only seven states that do not require teachers to pass a test to qualify for certification.
    When the testing of aspiring teachers began, the demonstrated ineptness of candidates made national news wires. More than half—56 percent—flunked basic reading and writing tests. Most couldn’t spell fourth-grade words, couldn’t define the meaning of democracy or explain what a noun and verb were.
    The state board of education’s effort to adjust the passing grade to reduce the number of failures provoked outrage among legislators. So did proposals that all current teachers be tested—but outrage in the latter instance came from the state’s two major teacher unions.
    Teacher quality may account to a limited degree for the fact that home schools in Massachusetts and elsewhere have quadrupled in the past 10 years. Nationally, an estimated 1.5 million children are taught at home. More than 4,500 families are registered as home-schoolers with the Indiana Department of Education.
    Done right, home schooling takes time, dedication and intellectual discipline. It isn’t for every child or every parent. But it is an option that should be open and legally protected for families desiring it. Massachusetts’ high court wisely affirmed that salient point.

—An Indianapolis Star editorial, December 30, 1998

Win for home schoolers

The Supreme Judicial Court has struck a blow for parental rights and forestalled a dangerous assault on home schooling.
    The court unanimously ruled that the city of Lynn could not force home schoolers to submit to inspections by school personnel.
    School systems can certainly impose reasonable regulations, such as looking at test scores to see if the children are learning, the court held.
    But, said the court, home visits are neither reasonable nor necessary to protect the state’s interest in ensuring that children receive an adequate education.
    The growth of the home school movement is having positive results. Standardized test scores show that, on average, the 1.7 million children schooled at home do better than their public school counterparts.
    Lynn was one of the very few school districts in the country with a home inspection policy. Apparently, it was the only one that actually enforced it.
    A victory for the city would have encouraged unwarranted intrusions by an educational establishment that hates alternatives to its monopoly.
    Even Lynn’s current mayor and superintendent of schools think the now-rejected policy was a bad idea. “From day one, I felt constitutionally you just don’t to go into someone’s home without a reason for being there,” Mayor Patrick Flynn said.
    He’s right, and it’s encouraging that the court will not allow unnecessary burdens on families who opt for home schooling.

—A Boston Herald editorial, Saturday, December 19, 1998