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Massachusetts

February 12, 2003

Massachusetts Protects Homeschool Privacy

Homeschoolers across America have begun to wonder whether their educational records are secure from prying eyes. The federal law that protects student privacy is limited to students who are enrolled in or attend "institutions," which has usually not been interpreted to include homeschoolers. The federal protections for student privacy are far from complete, and homeschoolers are unlikely to be satisfied by the mere possibility of limited protection under existing federal law. For this reason, several states are considering amendments to enhance homeschool privacy.

Massachusetts law demands a great deal of documentation from each homeschooled student. Each homeschool proposal must be "approved" in advance by the superintendent or school committee. While many states collect little or no information at all on homeschoolers, Massachusetts school districts often accumulate significant files on each homeschooler. For this reason, it is important for Massachusetts families to know and rely on their privacy rights under state law.

Massachusetts has, through Department of Education regulations, included all "persons aged three or older about whom a school committee maintains information" in its privacy requirements. (603 C.M.R. 23.02. The Massachusetts regulations on student records may be found at: http://www.doe.mass.edu/lawsregs/603cmr23/cmr23_regs.html#2.) These regulations spell out a parent's right to access student records, limitations on access by third parties, and so forth.

Not all Massachusetts school districts understand that homeschool privacy is protected, nor do all school districts comply with the regulations. HSLDA is familiar with situations in which school officials have violated the privacy of homeschooled students. Fortunately, parents have a right to request the Department of Education to conduct compliance reviews pursuant to the state regulations. When the Department of Education reviews a school district for compliance with student privacy regulations, the school committee and the specific schools involved are required to "cooperate to the fullest extent with such review." Most school districts, however, are ready to revise their procedures without the intervention of the Department of Education once they have been notified of a privacy problem.

HSLDA encourages all homeschoolers to familiarize themselves with their rights under the law. Since Massachusetts homeschoolers have to provide so much information to their local school district, it is essential that they understand how to protect that information after it is in the school district's files.