August 31, 2004
Dark Ages Homeschool Policy

Massachusetts law requires homeschool families to seek the "approval" of their local school district each year, but the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has placed substantial constitutional limits on what a school committee may require of a family. Ruling that homeschool requirements must be both "reasonable" and "essential," the Court struck down an unacceptable homeschool policy in Brunelle v. School Committee of Lynn in 1998. This built on the Care and Protection of Charles case in 1987, which limited school demands to four specific areas. Despite 17 years of constitutionally protected home education in Massachusetts, however, the Ashburnham-Westminster Regional School District is trying to plunge its homeschoolers back into the dark ages.

This district's school committee is "in the process of adopting a revised home instruction policy and procedures." The first that local homeschoolers knew about it was August 23, when the superintendent sent one family a copy of a policy which "has currently been approved for a first reading on July 20, and should be adopted with revisions by mid-September." The policy begins by insisting that every family must use the school district's new form, instead of allowing families to provide information in a letter or alternative form. This form must be submitted by May 15 of each year if the family wants to educate a child in September. The district insists that "pre-assessment and post-assessment may be conducted as part of [an] overall evaluation." It gives the superintendent power to require "additional appropriate testing." It requires all tests to be administered by persons designated by the superintendent after consultation with the parents. The date, time, and place of the testing "shall be determined by the superintendent." The policy requires parents and guardians to keep a weekly log of the activities accomplished, and allows the superintendent to demand that the families also complete monthly progress reports. The superintendent is entitled to require that work samples be submitted for review. The new policy strikes out existing language which allows home educated students to participate in extra-curricular programs in the district's schools.

HSLDA attorney Scott Somerville wrote to superintendent Michael Zapantis to inform him that the policy, as written, was unenforceable. If enacted, Ashburnham-Westminster would have the dubious distinction of having the worst homeschool policy in America. Given the Supreme Judicial Court's history of upholding the constitutional rights of homeschoolers and HSLDA's commitment to defend our member's rights, the school committee would be wise to reconsider this policy. If it is adopted and enforced, a civil rights case is almost unavoidable.