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April 13, 2010

North Kingstown Corrects “Ambush” Policy

On April 5 the North Kingstown School Committee adopted a favorable homeschool policy, thus making amends for “ambushing” the homeschool community last year with onerous policy changes.

In the autumn of 2002, homeschoolers worked cooperatively with the school committee and produced a good homeschool policy. Homeschoolers finished the process believing that there were good lines of communication and collegial relationships between them and school officials.

But in March of 2009, the school committee abruptly and dramatically changed the policy—with no notice to families. When homeschoolers discovered this in September of 2009, they were horrified. Within days, a truant officer was visiting families who were not in compliance with the “ambush” policy.

The “ambush” policy required parents to:

  1. Meet with an assistant superintendent;
  2. Prove their instructional plan meets “RI Department of Education requirements” (without explaining what this meant);
  3. “Register” their children in person with the North Kingstown public school department;
  4. Prove they live in North Kingstown; and
  5. Produce each “registered” child’s birth certificate.

HSLDA Senior Counsel Scott Woodruff and Rhode Island Guild of Home Teachers’ Amy Brock swiftly developed a plan. Brock contacted the school committee chairman, who promptly apologized for the “ambush.” He also promised to put the policy back on the agenda for modification. The chairman and the superintendent promised that homeschoolers who had filed a notice of intent would not be visited by a truant officer.

There followed many more meetings and conversations, but the superintendent had a hard time giving up on the idea of forcing homeschoolers to register like public school students. One school committee member, apparently confusing the role of school administrators with the sometimes-role of social workers, wanted school staff to visually inspect all homeschool students! The superintendent requested an advisory opinion from the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE). But RIDE wrote back and said homeschoolers cannot be compelled to register like public school students.

With this point of contention out of the way, other policy issues were addressed. The need for a specific requirement that homeschoolers be notified when any change in homeschool policy is contemplated was explained. Woodruff sent a letter to school committee members analyzing some issues still in dispute.

With a solid contingent of homeschoolers present, the policy subcommittee of the school committee met on March 25, and after hearing the parents’ testimony, the subcommittee agreed to support all the changes that were requested. After replacing the obsolete subject requirements of U.S. history, Rhode Island history and government, American government with the current requirement of “civics,” the full school committee approved the policy on April 5.

Highlights of the new policy are:

  1. Parents will be invited (not required) to meet with the assistant superintendent (most families will want to decline this invitation);
  2. The letter of intent will confirm that parents will teach all required subjects (no proof of curriculum required);
  3. No “registration” is required;
  4. No proof of residence is required;
  5. No birth certificate is required, but parents are asked to identify the child’s age in years and months, and last grade completed;
  6. All homeschool parents currently on record in North Kingstown will receive written notice if any change of policy is being formally considered.

If you have the opportunity, please thank Amy Brock for spending the many, many hours it took to finalize a policy that will protect homeschool freedom in North Kingstown. And thank members of the school committee for their cooperation.

 Other Resources

Complete North Kingstown School Committee Policy Manual (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)