May 11, 2004
Must Homeschoolers Provide a Public Education?

When Brendan Flask [not his real name] was 9 years old, he couldn't stand to go to public school. His teachers reported more and more problems trying to make him obey, resulting in many days of unexcused absences. The family tried a number of ways to resolve these problems, and finally decided to start homeschooling in December 2003. Little did they know their homeschool proposal would be rejected because it failed to provide a "free appropriate public education."

The family had little warning that there were problems. They turned in a home education proposal in December, met with the assistant superintendent later that month, and received a friendly letter back from her before the start of the next semester. She invited them to attend a "team" meeting to "review his individual education plan." The special education department sent letters saying, "Your child is an identified special needs student who is being homeschooled." No one suggested that the program had not been approved until a team meeting on February 26. Then, all of a sudden, the school officials announced that the parents were unable to provide the social support their son needed.

On February 27, 2004, the family received a notice that said, "Braintree Public Schools is proposing to act because a homeschool plan has been rejected by Braintree Public Schools since it does not support a free and appropriate public education for [Brendan]." A few weeks later, the school district formally requested a board of special education appeals hearing, saying, "At the present time, the student is unable to access special education due to the refusal of the parent to allow the services to be provided."

HSLDA attorney Scott Somerville flew to Boston to meet with the family and school officials. He pointed out the many procedural irregularities in the case, each of which served to deprive the parents of their opportunity to explain their plan and defend it. He informed the school officials that the child's own psychiatrist had initially recommended homeschooling, and was so pleased with the child's progress under the homeschool plan that the amount of psychiatric treatment had been substantially reduced. The parents explained how dramatically his behavior had changed since they began to teach him at home.

Under Massachusetts law, a school district may try to pursue special education hearings, but if the school district loses, they must pay the attorney's fees for the family. By contrast, the school district does not have to pay attorney fees to the family if there is a dispute over a home education proposal. The family and school officials agreed that it would be a good idea to first resolve the outstanding issues over the homeschool proposal before the matter went to special education proceedings.

Please pray for the Flask family as they submit a new home education proposal to Braintree. The home education program will be essentially the same, but they intend to give the school committee every opportunity to understand what they are doing and vote to approve it.