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Rhode Island

December 10, 2009

East Providence Guarantees “Heads Up” for Policy Changes

East Providence recently became the first town in the state to adopt a written policy guaranteeing that homeschoolers will be notified before changes to the policy are considered.

The long path to improvement began in March 2002 when homeschoolers began meeting with Superintendent Jacqueline Forbes and other officials to discuss problems arising under the homeschool policy. An improved policy was drafted during the spring and summer, but progress ground to a halt as school committee members became busy with elections in the fall. The superintendent’s attention was drawn away to other matters, and subsequent efforts to get the project moving again were not fruitful.

But in August of 2009, HSLDA Senior Counsel Scott Woodruff noticed that a new superintendent and assistant superintendent had been appointed, possibly creating an opportunity for a fresh start. Most of the group from 2002 had moved out of East Providence, but Rob and Sue Caputo (name changed to protect privacy), longtime members of HSLDA and Rhode Island Guild of Home Teachers, contacted Woodruff, stepped into the breach and offered to provide local leadership on the issue. It was personal for them: the same type of paperwork that East Providence had accepted from her for years was unexpectedly deemed inadequate as the 2009–10 school year began. At least one other family had the same experience.

The Caputos and Woodruff discussed strategy and objectives and launched a new reform effort. They soon learned that a member of the school administration who had previously been very supportive, Robert Rodericks, had retired. Unsure of how she would be received, Sue set up an appointment to meet with Dr. Caroline Caswell, a new assistant superintendent.

Sue found Caswell very supportive. The two established a cordial relationship and developed a plan to develop a homeschool policy that would respect the freedom of families, and also line up with state law.

Woodruff sent Sue copies of some good homeschool policies. Five or six local families came on board to provide feedback and assistance.

There was considerable give-and-take during negotiations between school representatives and the homeschoolers. In the end, however, consensus developed and a very good policy was submitted to the school committee. The policy said that families could begin homeschooling immediately upon filing their notice of intent—an excellent policy feature that is currently found in some, but not all, town policies. Mandatory meetings with school officials were eliminated. The requirement for a family to explain why they were homeschooling was dropped. Attendance and evaluation issues were handled sensibly.

But the draft also contained a tremendously helpful “heads up” feature never before seen in a town policy: “If any change of policy toward homeschooling is being formally considered, all parents who are currently on record as homeschooling in East Providence will be provided written notice.”

Woodruff had suggested this provision after unfortunate recent events in North Kingstown. The school committee there changed its policy to add new and illogical burdens for families—without ever telling them that any changes were even being contemplated. North Kingstown families were blindsided and forced to do a rear-guard action to correct the problems.

On December 8, the East Providence school committee formally adopted the consensus policy. Relationships between homeschool families and school officials were deepened and strengthened during the process. Both the policy itself and the process that was followed have established a foundation of community good will.