Paperwork Havoc for Homeschoolers
by Mike Donnelly • October 23, 2018
Dozens of families gathered in Worcester last week for the second time to request that the city’s school committee get more involved to resolve ongoing problems related to homeschool plans. The Worcester School District changed its policies abruptly in July, resulting in unsettling back-and-forth between many families and what some have said is an unresponsive school department.
One veteran homeschooling parent summarized the turmoil and anxiety she and others have endured in a comment to a local newspaper.
Maryagnes Reilly told the Worcester Telegram: “We’ve never had any issues with the Worcester pubic schools in our nearly 18 years of homeschooling. That changed this summer.”
Promise of Change
The school committee sounded sympathetic to the plight of the families. Brian O’Connell, the committee’s senior member, said: “We need to make sure we have some process in place, so the challenges of this fall … can be put behind us, and never occur again.”
O’Connell made a motion to refer the issue to one of the subcommittees for further action and requested a report from the school administration on the issue.
Home School Legal Defense Association has been working with dozens of families in the district to resolve the disputes and has been encouraging the development of a new policy.
This is not simply a matter of preference—the Worcester policy as currently written is vague and doesn’t reflect the law.
Even more disturbing is how the school district changed its requirements after the fact. Many homeschooling families had already submitted their progress reports, which would have been accepted in the past. Changing the rules after people have relied on past practice is inherently unfair.
From Threats to Assurances
The situation worsened in May after officials sent a letter to families threatening them with truancy prosecutions if their homeschool plans were not approved by the start of the public school year. Subsequently, the school district’s lawyers told HSLDA that as long as the families remained in communication with the school about their plans, the district would not prosecute.
There had been several instances where schools in Worcester referred families to the Department of Children and Families for investigations and initiated truancy prosecutions.
We informed WPS officials that we consider that kind of enforcement over the top. We’re talking about paperwork issues here—not neglect. A family and a school arguing over an education plan is no reason to commence a truancy or CPS investigation.
That’s not how the law is supposed to work in this state. The Charles case says that school districts and homeschool families must work together to resolve issues cooperatively. We haven’t seen this type of situation affect such a great number of Massachusetts families in a long time.
The district did commit to not referring families for truancy or DCF investigations while they were communicating. The current situation deals with a few families, but many are concerned about what may happen next year if the policy isn’t addressed now.
Whether for a single family, dozens or thousands, HSLDA exists to make homeschooling possible and to defend the rights of everyone. We are an association that is stronger together and we invite you to join us today!