October 7, 2008

DOE Calls Hearings for Missed Deadline

Several families in Vermont are being challenged in hearings which could result in the state preventing their children from being enrolled in home study. HSLDA is preparing a defense on issues involving the Minimum Course of Study Exemption (MCOS), religious exemptions and what is required for students who are suspected of having a disability.

In particular, one impending hearing before the Vermont Department of Education (DOE) focuses specifically on the Department’s interpretation of the MCOS exemption language in the statute. Home School Legal Defense Association contends that this deadline is not a valid exercise of the commissioner’s authority under the statute.

The Vermont Legislature amended the home study law to provide the Minimum Course of Study (MCOS) exemption in 2005. The amendment added subsection (k) and (l), allowing for home study programs that met certain conditions to be relieved of having to submit the MCOS every year.

The law states:

“A Vermont home study program which has successfully completed the last two consecutive school years of home study with any enrolled child, provided those two years fall within the most recent five years, shall not thereafter be required to submit an annual detailed outline or narrative describing the content of the minimum course of study. For the purposes of this subsection, successful completion of a home study program shall mean that, in each of the two consecutive years, the program has not been disallowed by order of a hearing officer, the previously enrolled student made progress commensurate with age and ability in all subject areas of the minimum course of study, and the home study program has otherwise complied with the requirements of this section.”

This law was intended to relieve both the Department of Education and Vermont homeschoolers from an unnecessary burden of reviewing or submitting an MCOS every year after a home study program demonstrated in two consecutive years that it complied with the criteria in sub section (k). Although it could have, the legislature chose not to include a date by which an enrollment notice must be submitted in order to meet the conditions for an exemption.

The Vermont Supreme Court has held that Vermont has a “notice-enrollment” homeschool law as distinct from an “application-approval” law. (In Re T.M. 756 A2d. 793). Unfortunately, as often happens, public education bureaucrats forget that they do not get to make law. In this case, the Vermont DOE has decided that it will not treat as exempt notices of intent sent by Vermont homeschoolers after the department’s arbitrary deadline. This deadline is not contained in the law and was never intended by the legislature. In fact, since the amendment to add the exemption language, the DOE has had at least three different deadlines. The deadline for this year was “before Labor Day.” Maybe next year there will be a different one.

HSLDA Staff Attorney Michael Donnelly is charged with handling member affairs for the state of Vermont. He said that “instead of focusing on bureaucratic hurdles, the Vermont DOE should implement what the law clearly states.”

HSLDA is defending Vermont families who have “lost their exemption” because they allegedly “missed the deadline” or because the DOE claims that the family didn’t have two years of consecutive home study because of “late paperwork.” Donnelly asks all Vermonters to join in support and prayer of HSLDA’s work to defend homeschoolers in Vermont so they may be free of unreasonable government interference with their home study programs.

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