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Massachusetts is one of two remaining states where local school officials have the authority to "approve" or "reject" a home education proposal. The other 48 states prevent secular school officials from exercising discretionary authority over homeschoolers. Therefore, Massachusetts is one of the two places in the country where you may be compelled to meet with a school official in order to obtain "permission" to teach your own children in your own home. This article provides a few tips for parents in this position.
First, it is important to understand that face-to-face meetings with school officials should be rare. While many school districts try to demand meetings as a matter of course, HSLDA has successfully enabled families to avoid meeting with school administrators unless there is a particular need to do so. If your district routinely requires meetings, please contact HSLDA to discuss the situation. Even if you have met with your school staff year after year, there is no reason to perpetuate a process which is neither necessary nor beneficial.
If a meeting is, in fact, required, make sure that the agenda for that meeting is spelled out in advance. Sometimes school officials simply want to introduce themselves and explain what public school resources are available to homeschooling families in the district. If the homeschooling family understands that this is the purpose of the meeting there is little risk that family freedoms will be jeopardized. If, on the other hand, the school wants to try to persuade a family to stop homeschooling, insist that the purpose of the meeting is put in writing before you even attend.
If you must meet and have a written agenda, please ensure that you make a positive impression. Many school officials honestly believe that homeschoolers are uneducated misfits. Your dress and speech can help to correct that error. Sloppy or careless clothing may express your "laid-back personality," but it plays right into negative prejudices, which are long-lasting and difficult to correct. Dress as if you were going out to eat at a nice restaurant, and speak as carefully as you would if you were interviewing for a job. You only get one chance to make a first impression. It is up to you to make it a positive or a negative one. The good (and long-lasting) impression you make will serve the entire homeschool community for many years to come.
Make sure you take HSLDA's phone number to any face-to-face meetings with school officials. If things go as planned, you should never be uncomfortable in the meeting. If, however, you feel bullied or ambushed, politely interrupt the meeting and ask if you can consult with your attorney. In most cases, school officials will change their tone in order to avoid introducing an attorney into the discussion. Having a lawyer on the phone can change the dynamics of the entire meeting in your favor.
The essential point to remember in any meeting with school officials is that your behavior affects far more than just your family. If you tend to be an easygoing, compliant type who hates to say "no," think of all the other families who don't want to attend a meeting who will have to deal with these same officials all because you were trying to be "helpful and nice." If, on the other hand, you have an "in your face" personality and a fiery temper, remember that the enemies you make today will be attacking other homeschoolers for years to come. If you are faced with a meeting with school officials and are concerned about attending it alone, call HSLDA. We can put you in touch with your state organization, or support group leader if necessary. There may be someone that can attend the meeting with you, and/or pray with you about it beforehand. HSLDA may also know someone in your area that has experience with these types of meetings. By working hard and working together we can make sure that all Massachusetts homeschoolers enjoy the blessings of liberty.