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!!!

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