In a bid to relieve overwhelmed regulators, Vermont has reversed longstanding restrictions on homeschooling families in the state. A new law signed by Gov. Phil Scott releases homeschool families from the requirement to submit end-of-year assessments and a minimum course of study to the state.
As HSLDA has helped families navigate legal requirements in Vermont, these two requirements were the source of “between 80 and 90 percent” of the problems they have faced over the years, according to Director of Litigation Peter Kamakawiwoole.
Education officials had a 45-day window to raise concerns with either the assessments or the courses of study, but rarely did. As a result, parents were often caught up in a legal limbo, while they waited for the hearing window to pass.
After the influx of homeschooling ignited by the COVID-19 pandemic, Vermont recognized the amount of submission materials generated by their current practices was just too great for their limited staff to review in the 14-day window allowed by the statute. Something needed to change.
They already understood the changes that many homeschool families wanted thanks to a dedicated homeschool veteran: Retta Dunlap.
When Retta began homeschooling in the 80s, parents were required to submit paperwork once their child turned 7, the compulsory age of attendance. So when Retta’s son turned 7, that’s exactly what she did.
Shortly after that, she received a note informing her that the compulsory age had changed to 6. Shocked by the new standard, she called her legislator and senator to communicate her frustration and confusion.
No one had informed her that the statute had changed. “I promised that day that I would never be surprised again by something that affected my homeschooling being dropped on me,” Retta said.
In the three decades since, Retta has been a primary liaison between the homeschool community and legislators in Vermont. She’s asked the education department for new legislation time and time again.
Last year, she connected with the department’s secretary and was invited to edit a draft of some legislation. Those drafts turned into H. 461, the bill now signed into law. The secretary introduced the bill last year to the House Education Committee, and Retta said it was “even better” than what they had discussed.
Beginning in July, families will no longer have to submit a minimum course of study, and while they will still have to assess their child’s progress at the end of the year, they will no longer be required to submit evidence of progress to the state every year.
With the elimination of these points of contention, both the hearing process and the old provisions are no longer necessary and have been removed. This will give homeschool families more freedom to choose how to educate their child, while lessening paperwork for the state.
Without the minimum course of study requirement, parents can customize their child’s education to match their interest and needs. They can also choose from a wide variety of evaluations, tests or assessments to measure their child’s yearly progress, instead of a list from the state.
“That’s going to open up the freedom of the parent to really think outside the box,” Retta said. “The creative nature of homeschooling children will be opened up by this.”
The new law hands homeschooling back to parents and puts an end to some of the most common legal misunderstandings.
“It takes many people to make something like this happen,” Kamakawiwoole said, “but I’m quite confident that these changes would not have occurred without Retta’s involvement, leadership, and relationships.”“Through her efforts, she has given every homeschooling family in Vermont a tremendous gift—even more freedom to teach their children in a way that addresses their needs and interests,” he added. “That’s an incredible legacy.”