March 14, 2002

Massachusetts Home Schooling Family Rejects School District Ultimatum

Despite bullying from their local school district, The Kent* family of Greenfield, Massachusetts has refused to comply with the district's intrusive and illegal home education requirements.

Every new home schooler in Greenfield faces a tough choice: they must risk either inquisition by the school committee or prosecution in court. Massachusetts has one of the most restrictive home school laws in America. A school district can take any home schooler to court if they do not get official "approval" before removing a child from public school. Yet the town of Greenfield, Massachusetts, has a home school policy that is extreme, even by Massachusetts standards. Greenfield will not even consider "authorizing" a home school proposal unless the parents appear at a school committee meeting, no matter how thorough their written proposal may be.

The Kent family had their son Ryan in the Greenfield Public Schools for the fall semester of 2001 but soon realized that he was not thriving there. As a result, they decided to teach him at home. The Kents quickly chose a high quality curriculum, met with an experienced home schooler in another district, and wrote up a home education proposal for their district. They withdrew Ryan from school during the Christmas break and have been delighted with how well home schooling is working for him.

The Kents then began receiving repeated requests - and then demands - to appear at a school committee meeting to answer questions about their home school program. Following the advice of experienced home schoolers in other districts, who had never seen such demands, the Kent family refused to comply.

When the school committee met to consider the family's proposal, the Kents were not present. Instead of voting on the proposal, they postponed the matter to their next meeting. In most states, this procedure would be a nuisance but not a threat. But since Massachusetts law technically requires a family to get approval before removing a Ryan from a public school, the Kent family got a call from the vice principal the next day ordering the child returned to the public school immediately. If the family refused, the principal said, he would file a "Child in Need of Services" (CHINS) petition and fine the family $250.00 for each day Ryan did not attend the public school.

HSLDA called school officials to warn them that their policy exceeds the law. However, if this situation is like similar cases in Massachusetts, it is unlikely to be resolved until the school's attorney compares the policy with court precedents. This could take weeks or months.

It is easy for a school district to take a Massachusetts home schooler to court, but it is not quite as easy to convict them. Under Massachusetts law, a school must prove that the home school is worse than the public school. Specifically, the district must prove that the home school is less efficient, less thorough, and makes less progress than the public school that the child would otherwise attend. In this case, the Kents can easily prove that their home school program is more efficient and more thorough, because Ryan has already made more progress at home than he did during his fall semester in public school. They may have to go to court, but they have very little to fear once they get there.

HSLDA will keep members informed as the Greenfield situation unfolds. Home school families that are members of HSLDA know they can resist when a school district makes unlawful demands. The home school movement will remain free as long as courageous and committed people like the Kent family in Greenfield stand their ground and defend their freedoms. Such families help preserve the blessings of liberty for the entire home schooling community.

(*Family's name change to protect their privacy.)