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August 15, 2013

Subjects for Recognized Private Schools and Home Instruction Students and the “Guidelines”


Scott Woodruff answers questions and assists members regarding legal issues in Maine. He and his wife homeschooled their children. Read more >>

HSLDA recently received a question that could be paraphrased as:

“The required subjects for home instruction students and students in recognized private schools were the same until this year. Now that is no longer the case. I’m concerned as to what that means for the recognized private school I run, and I have been asked quite often by other homeschoolers that I help support about this issue. Do all the subjects need to be taught every single year to every single student no matter the age? Is world history still required?”

One of the requirements for Maine home instruction programs is that the parents provide written assurance to the school administrative unit and Commissioner of Education that the student will receive instruction in the subjects in the left-hand column below.

One of the provisions that apply to private schools that want to be recognized as providing equivalent instruction (many Maine homeschool families participate in this option) involves the school filing an annual letter with the Commissioner of Education stating that the school provides instruction in the subjects listed in the right-hand column. (An “X” indicates the corresponding subject is not listed.)

Home Instruction

Recognized Private Schools

English and language arts English language consisting of reading, writing, spelling, grammar
math math
science science
social studies X
X American history
health education health education
fine arts fine arts
Maine studies Maine history, geography, civil government, citizenship
physical education X
library skills X
computer proficiency X

All the home instruction subjects should be taught each year to each student, except for Maine studies, which should be taught one year between grades 6 and 12, and computer proficiency which should be demonstrated one year between grades 7 and 12. The recognized private school subjects do not need to be taught to every student every year. If the subjects are part of the school’s overall program, the school can state in good faith that it provides instruction in the subjects.

The home instruction subjects are “set in stone,” that is, they are listed in a statute which only the Maine Legislature can change. See Maine Statute 20-A sec. 5001-A.3(A)(4)(a)(iv).

“Guidelines”

But the list of subjects for recognized private schools comes from a far less grounded source: guidelines from the Maine Department of Education. The department can change its guidelines without consulting the legislature, without giving public notice, and without even talking to the people whom the changes could profoundly impact.

The guidelines are not “law” in the usual sense of the word. But they are very important because they give us confidence as to how a school can achieve “recognized” status from the department. If there were no guidelines we could only guess as to which schools the department might recognize as equivalent.

The guidelines are completely voluntary for the school itself. Because of the Bangor Baptist Church v. Maine court case in 1983, the department has no authority to shut down or punish a private school that does not want to be recognized.

But if a school does not follow the guidelines, the parents cannot be certain that their children’s attendance there satisfies compulsory attendance. Although there are few (if any) examples of it ever happening, it is even possible that the families themselves could face truancy charges in court.

Benefits

On the other hand, the families benefit if the school follows the guidelines. They have the peace of mind of knowing for sure that their children’s attendance there satisfies the compulsory attendance law.

Some time ago the department abruptly changed the guidelines by adding health education and fine arts as subjects. Unfortunately, the department neglected to communicate on this important topic with the community before or even after the change.

HSLDA and Homeschoolers of Maine have conveyed to the department their unhappiness about this. We have asked the department to contact us if it ever again considers changing the guidelines.

With the exception of adding these two subjects, the guidelines have changed very little since the department first published them. HSLDA members may view the complete current guidelines here. A summary of the guidelines is available online.

The guidelines are workable. But it is vitally important that the department not repeat its misstep of neglecting to involve the stakeholders when it is considering changes.

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