Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How to deal with MA school officials and paperwork with un/homeschooling

How to deal with MA school officials and paperwork with un/homeschooling

Last year I was a newbie to un/homeshooling in MA.  I felt somewhat confident in what I was going to do.  I saw a 2e expert last June and she advised me to loosely follow a general curriculum series for some structure.  I have nearly a master's in education due to all those required education classes years ago that I need to obtain a MA certification.  I taught history briefly in a public high school.  I regularly read about education to stay current in the field and expose myself to new practices and methods.  

Every state makes their own rules and requirements with un/homeschooling.  In MA, parents are required to submit an education plan to local school officials and obtain approval.  They do not need to submit this paperwork before they seek approval to un/homeschool though.  Parental rights regarding un/homeshooling and is based on case law.  

Since school authorities must review and approve a parent's education plan for un/homeschooling, many parents (mothers) like myself fall or have fallen into a trap or cycle of seeking approval, affirmation, and acceptance from an authority.  We don't see ourselves as holding authority.  We still think others hold power over us and that we're still children in school.  We're afraid of being sanctioned or hauled into the principal's office for failing in our duties and responsibilities.  We still feel the need to justify our reasons and be responsible to others.  We want validation that we are doing the 'right' thing. 

So what do we do?  We go crawling to school officials.  We seek their care, protection, and approval to do the 'right' thing.  We ask if their is paperwork to un/homeschool.  We seek their permission to un/homeschool even though we've already been legally granted and bestowed the right to do so from the courts.

Last year I played this game too.  I went to school officials and filled out their forms for homeschooling.  I didn't legally have to do this and it was an overreach by the local school officials.  But like many, I wanted to make my life easier and gain quick acceptance and a stamp of approval from school officials.  I wanted to un/homeschool without any hassles.  It seemed easier to fill out their paperwork and follow their rules and authority.  I was naive and later kicked myself for having these thoughts.

I, of all people, felt should know better as a special needs mother!  When we were living in NYC, I had to obtain a lawyer to advocate for my son Malcolm to get services.  At the time, Malcolm was being phased out of Early Intervention.  The NYC Board of Education wanted to slash his physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech.  We were already paying out of pocket for the feeding therapy and later vision therapy.  In NYC, the word is to advocate.  And by golly, do special needs mothers know how to advocate in NYC!!  Some of these women are the most savviest you'll ever come across.

In spring, I filled out the forms but in September I got a letter from school officials telling me that the previously submitted form was no longer valid and needed to submit another form with a lot more details and information.  I was livid.  These forms required me to list printed textbooks, curricula, and a lot of other information that I was not prepared to give.  There was also a homeschool support group sheet that specified two religious homeschool support groups (Catholic and Muslim) which I thought had crossed a boundary and bridge between what the separation of church and state and what freedom of conscious/ choice is; we don't stipulate particular religious homeschool support groups and not others, I thought.  

Initially I ignored the letter and refused to submit their newly revised application form to homeschool.  The law was on my side, I told myself.  Then, I did some self reflection on why I was seeking their authority and approval and not being more assertive, pro-active, and responsible for my actions and decision to un/homeschool.

But then the last Friday in September came, I got a voice mail message from the school department: I had not enrolled my son in public school or in homeschooling.  They asked me to phone or submit paperwork asap.  At first, I laughed.  I didn't know I had to actually enroll my son for un/homeschooling!  On the Saturday, I went to an AHEM Conference and became more confident in dealing with the school.

It dawned on me at the AHEM Conference that I'd been neglecting being an advocate for my son like I had been in NYC with special needs.  As a special needs parent in NYC and in MA, I automatically received a parental guide from school officials any time we had a meeting or dealt with the paperwork.  No such paperwork or guide is offered with un/homeschooling.  Nationally and locally, school officials are only too aware that special needs parents obtain lawyers and will pursue lawsuits to get services for their children.  School officials know that parents will sue.  With un/homeschooling, it doesn't work this way.  With a special needs child, you often have to obtain services through the public schools, who still hold control over whether a child qualifies for services or not.  With un/homeschooling, you're not seeking services.  You're merely seeking the public schools to process and authorize your paperwork to un/homeschool.  You are effectively your own principal, teacher, and school for your child/ren.

So after the AHEM Confernce, on the first Sunday in October, I mailed another education plan to the local school officials based on AHEM's sample and with a letter about my parents rights and duties, their respective rights and duties, and their legal overreach with their paperwork.  In the letter, I stated that I had already submitted an education plan and that this was the second notification of my intent to un/homeschool.  I erred on the side of caution and said that perhaps they were misinformed about what I was required to submit.  I included the various case laws in the letter and informed school officials with my prior contact with the ACLU over my rights and freedom of conscious.

By Tuesday, I had received a letter from the local school officials informing me that my education plan had been approved.  I like to think that my letter tipped the balance, but it's hard to say.

It's nearly the end of October and I've finally managed to find time to write a blog on it.  Do I get partial credit for it?  Well, here's my advice to anyone who is planning to un/homeschool and deal with school officials:

1.  Find out what are your legal rights.  Homeschooling is a legal option in every state, though each state follows its own laws and/or guidelines with it.

2.  Find out what you are legally required to submit.  I'd suggest following the letter of the law.

3.  Remember, you have parental rights and authority.  Remember, you do not need to humbly seek permission to homeschool your child.  You already have the right bestowed on you.

4.  In MA, remember the burden of proof rests with school officials to prove that your education plan does not offer the same thoroughness and effectiveness as the public school.

a) You do not need to replicate the offerings of the public schools.  In other words, school officials need to prove before a court of law that what you list on your education plan does not offer the same rigor as the public school.   If you were to list my free and open source guide  or Rebecca Rupp's book, Home Learning Year by Year, it would be impossible for a judge to dismiss your education plan as lacking in thoroughness, effectiveness, or rigor of the public schools.

b) You do not need to use or list any textbooks or curricula.  You are not legally required to use any.  In fact, the law says non tangible educational materials are often more effective than printed textbooks.

5.  Create a paper trail.  Document your words.  Put everything in writing.

6.  Laugh.  Put things in perspective.  The number of un/homeschoolers in MA is still small.  Many school officials may be misinformed, misguided, and overzealous in their duties.  The law is on your side though.  The burden of proof is on them; not on you as an un/homeschooler.

7.  Find support.  An AHEM Conference is a great place to vent, meet others, and gain confidence!!!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

education plan

Education Plan for Malcolm Fox (d.o.b.)

The education plan is submitted in accordance with the Charles decision:

We will cover the following subjects:

Reading, writing, English, mathematics, history and social studies, science and technology, the arts, foreign languages, and physical education.  [I could have listed topics or subsections of fields, such as astronomy or Ancient Egypt instead.]

We will be using a variety of materials and resources. We will be using the Internet, books, videos, libraries, museums, and many manipulatives. Some of the online resources can be found in Carolyn's article -http://opensource.com/education/13/4/guide-open-source-education
[NOTE:  Alternatively you could simply cite: Rebecca Rupp, Home Learning Year by Year: How to Design a Homeschool Curriculum from Preschool Through High School (which is basically a list of (mainly) books with  some videos and websites for each grade and each subject and what the standards are for each grade and each subject - in other words, it would be rather impossible for ANY school administrators to criticize).]
We will meet or exceed the 180 days, 900/990 hours of instruction required yearly in the public schools.

We are of competent ability and good morals and hold graduate degrees.  [I felt like saying that we are totally incompetent, immoral human beings who happen to hold graduate degrees].

An annual progress report will be submitted.  [AHEM recommends following their sample progress reports which I plan to do].


Carolyn & Simon Fox

Letter to Assistant Superintendent for homeschooling

October 7, 2013

Assistant Superintendent

Carolyn & Simon Fox

Dear Ms. Assistant Superintendent,

This is a second notification that we are homeschooling our son Malcolm. In the spring, we had submitted an application from your office (the Assistant Superintendent's office) which declared our intention to homeschool. On September 3, 2013, you acknowledged that you had received this application but had declared to us that such paperwork is no longer on a proper form. The fact that homeschoolers are not legally required to complete such a form or provide such detailed information regarding how we homeschooled was perhaps overlooked or a misinterpretation of the law regarding the legal obligations of homeschoolers.

We have an attached education plan for my son Malcolm Fox (d.o.b.). This education plan is submitted in accordance with Charles decision that governs what homeschoolers are legally required to provide to school districts. According to the Guidelines for Home Education in Massachusetts: Information for Superintendents (http://www.mhla.org/supt/guidelines.htm), school officials may consider that homeschoolers are not required to use printed textbooks or replicate the course offerings of a public school based on the Brunelle and Charles decisions.

As Salem residents, we are particularly surprised and offended by your actions, the revised application, and the list of Home Education Support Organization for homeschoolers. Considering Salem's very long, painful history (especially if we consider the seventeenth century) and its involvement in the history of education and technology, we are aghast at the treatment of homeschoolers. When we consider the contribution of Elizabeth Palmer Peabody to this city and her pivotal role in education, we are quite disappointed.

We had thought that Salem was the city of peace and had learnt from its history of intolerance. However, we wonder. It seems that Roger Williams's principles of freedom of conscience are being trampled on and compromised. It also seems that the Salem Public Schools is uneasy in its relationship with homeschoolers and to ideological diversity over educational philosophies.

Homeschooling families are networking and sharing information on how school districts are accommodating or difficult they are with homeschooling. Families are making decisions to move to various towns or cities based on level of accommodation or difficulty to homeschoolers. There are a number of websites, social networking groups, and other forums online and local groups who disseminate such information.

While we understand and respect the responsibility of school officials to expedite approval of home education plans, we also understand that we have already fulfilled our responsibility and obligation to notify our intent to homeschool in the spring last year. It is our understanding that the courts have emphasized consistently that parents and school authorities should proceed cooperatively to “expedite approval.” (Charles, Searles, Ivan). In cases where differences cannot be resolved cooperatively, the school authority assumes the burden of proof in any subsequent legal proceedings. We have also contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts regarding this matter and will be contacting the Home School Legal Defense Association as well.


Carolyn & Simon Fox

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Cattle Prod or a Magic Wand?

A Cattle Prod or a Magic Wand?

Last week I had wanted a cattle prod.  I couldn't motivate my nearly eight-year-old 2e pg son to put his socks and shoes at all.  I gave numerous prompts and notices.  I reminded Malcolm that we could not go anywhere without his socks and shoes on.  This did not make the slightest bit of difference to him.  It didn't matter that he needed to put his socks and shoes on so we could meet friends at the playground. And neither did the fact that we were running out of time to catch a bus for the playground either.

For once in my life, I had wanted to save my sanity and restore my faith that Malcolm could put his socks and shoes on within 5 minutes or less.  I don't think it's unreasonable to request this, especially since Malcolm's shoes have velcro straps.  Instead, it took him 20 minutes or more to put on his socks and shoes.  He was like a lump of potatoes.  I just couldn't shift him.  I wanted to cattle prod him.  Of course, I was beginning to wonder if things would ever change or if I would have an eighteen-year-old son who would spend more than 20 minutes putting on his socks and shoes.

By the time we had finally managed to get out the door and reached the playground, I had desperately wanted a magic wand.  Malcolm had darted absentmindedly across the parking lot.  He hadn't paid any attention to the driver or cars entering and exiting the parking lot.  Did he care that he could have gotten killed or seriously hurt?  No.  I don't think so.  Is this one of every parent's fears?  Yes.  But as a parent of a 2e child this type of situation is often magnified.  The message - we don't dart in front of cars or in a parking lot, period - did not enter Malcolm's mind and was never processed, it seemed.

All the hard work, time, and energy spent effort spent on safety awareness and self-regulation had vanished before my eyes in a blink.  All the years of occupational therapy, vision therapy, and neurofeedback were for naught, it seemed.  Immediately, my mind flashed to living in NYC and the numerous times Malcolm wanted to fly down subway stations or veer off on subway platforms when he was between two and four years old; those times when I was convinced he wasn't going to live to five and instead be tragically killed in an instant.  Those times I had wondered if Malcolm would ever gain the remotest sense of safety awareness or self-regulation skills.  Would the severe sensory processing deficits ever improve within my lifetime or my son's, I had wondered.  Would things ever get better?  But, of course, they did.  It just took a loooong time and a lot of therapies.  And it took a lot of hard work, time, and energy on my part.  Things have gotten better and while the sensory processing is no longer severe as it once was, it's still frustratingly there.

Most parents face these worries and struggles with their child/ren, but for those of us who have or have had kids with such worries and struggles can seem relentless and never ending.  It's the constant daily battlegrounds with safety awareness, self-regulation, self-control, self-help skills (ie. putting shoes on), the attentional deficits, the lack of the body in space concept, and the list goes on and on.  Will it ever end, you wonder?  Why can't my kid just be so 'normal' like the others, you ask.

With these kids, the neurological wiring seems to be faulty or gone haywire.  At times, nothing seems to click.  There doesn't seem to be any internal switches like other 'normal' kids seem to have.  Other times, everything seems to click or be switched on.  And there doesn't seem to be any internal off buttons.  You throw your hands up in the air.  You cry.  You scream.  Your tear your hair out.  Then, you decide to sit down.  You decide to take it one day at a time or as much as you can humanly handle.  You get help.  You get therapy or numerous therapies.  You find support.  Things do improve, but often at a snail's pace.  Over many years, you look back and say, "wow, I can't believe we made it and did it."  Gee, I wish life was easier.

As a parent of one of these kids, you often feel like you're entitled to some neurological replacement parts or at least a daily personal assistant for fortitude in dealing with numerous ordeals and chronicles of daily life.  At times, you're just grateful for a shoulder to lean on and for those receptive ears to hear what you have to say.  That one person who has walked in your shoes or at least similar ones.  That one person who knows what it's like to have a child who may totally melt and lose self-control when other kids have no clue about Mycenaean Civilization (what's that?), never mind pretend to re-enact it.

How many, many times would I have felt more in control with a cattle prod and/or a magic wand or deal with the ups and downs of daily life.  And how many, many times would I like others to accept and compute the child who is out-of-sync yet has an upside-down brilliance which others find baffling.