May 9, 2003

New Massachusetts 'Advisory on Home Education' to be Released

On June 9, 2003, Home School Legal Defense Association attorney Scott Somerville will meet with Massachusetts Department of Education attorneys for another round of negotiations on the new "Advisory on Home Education."

In 1987, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that homeschooling was constitutionally protected. The next year, the Massachusetts Department of Education released an Advisory on Home Education that grudgingly conceded this point but advised school districts to approve homeschool programs. That document suggested a number of ways to regulate homeschooling, including the suggestion of home visits. Since 1988, the Supreme Judicial Court has issued two more opinions on homeschooling, including one that forbids home visits. Despite this, the Department of Education Advisory has not been changed since 1988. For at least eight years, various attorneys in the Department have been working on a new draft Advisory, but none has yet emerged.

All of Massachusetts' statewide homeschool organizations have worked together to advise the Department of problems in the existing Advisory and the working draft. Mr. Somerville met with Department officials in the mid '90s, along with representatives from MassHOPE and the Massachusetts Home Learning Association. At that time, the Department assured homeschoolers the Advisory would be released in a matter of months. Years later, homeschool leaders have become more pessimistic about such promises.

The fundamental problem in releasing a new Advisory may well be the gap between what the law requires and what the educational officials are willing to admit. Since homeschooling is constitutionally protected in Massachusetts, school officials can do relatively little to regulate homeschooling in general and nothing at all to regulate a family that can demonstrate educational success. Under Massachusetts' law, it is a crime to operate a homeschool that is worse than the local public school in the same town, but a family is free to operate a homeschool that meets or exceeds local school district performance, with or without the district's permission.

The Massachusetts Department of Education has not yet been willing to advise local school districts to ease up on homeschool regulations, even though most existing regulations are clearly unenforceable. For now, at least, the Department would prefer to hand out advice that is both outdated and unhelpful rather than recognize homeschool freedom.