At a Sept. 29 School Committee (SC) meeting, the agenda-item subject of homeschooling came up right away during the public comments part of the meeting. Homeschooling parent Robert Scott said that he took over the education of his son in 2019 because he felt the local elementary school was failing to meet his child’s needs. Scott noted that right now his family is in close contact with the school and that his child may attend specials with his peers (such as music, gym, art).
Scott’s concern is that Wellesley is considering updates to its homeschooling policies that will put in place mandates beyond what is legally required at the State level. According to Scott, the School Committee is seeking to “control, limit, and deter,” homeschooling, as well as limit access of public school educational resources access to home schoolers.
Policy in the making
The Wellesley Public Schools currently have two home schooling policies listed as under review. (Those policies may be accessed at this link. They are near the bottom of the page.) In Draft IHBG—Homeschooling, the one-page policy hews closely to what the Massachusetts General Law requires. For example, state law says families “must submit written notification of establishment of the home-based program to the appropriate administrator 14 days before the program is established and resubmit notification on an annual basis as long as the child or children are being educated in a home-based environment.”
Wellesley’s home schooling page includes a link to a two-page application for families who wish to homeschool their students.
In an email to The Swellesley Report from a parent who asked to remain anonymous, that parent estimated that the number of homeschooling families has gone from the dozen last year reported by Wellesley to the State to over 30 families this year.
He voiced concerns that “Because of the funding worries, a lot of towns are putting policies together that go FAR beyond the requirements for homeschooling laid out in case law. Some cities are downright threatening people and demanding interviews and home visits. A local homeschooling group is tracking overreach and providing supports. For those of us who plan to homeschool beyond this year, it’s a worry that unnecessary requirements will be put in place. Personally, I don’t mind sharing educational information with the town. I want them to have a vested interested in my son’s success. However, other families don’t want burdensome requirements for testing or limits on what type of curriculum they use.”
Homeschooling not the Wild West of education
Although case law has been clear that districts may not demand home visits, families who don’t want to run their choice of textbooks and other details of their educational plans by local public school officials may be out of luck. That’s because State policy also says that the Superintendent or SC has broad discretion to approve a homeschool program or not based on four guidelines: the proposed curriculum and the number of hours of instruction in each of the proposed subjects; the competency of the parents to teach the children; the textbooks, workbooks and other instructional aids to be used; and periodic standardized testing of the children to ensure educational progress and the attainment of minimum standards.
Beyond the Superintendent’s discretion in approving a homeschool program, what also causes some angst among families is the part of the policy that states, “A student being educated in a home-based program within the District may have access to public school activities of either a curricular or extracurricular nature upon approval of the Superintendent.”
We’ve heard some voice concerns that there is a movement afoot to limit the access to homeschooled kids to specials and sports. “The timing and optics are terrible for creating new and exclusionary policies, when the status quo has not proven to be a drain on resources, resources that are provided by all our taxes,” Scott said.
There’s always the matter of money
Wellesley reports data to the State at the end of October on where the town’s students are being schooled. That information will in turn be included in the State’s yearly “Numbers of School Attending Children Report”. Once the data is reported to the State, the Superintendent’s office will publicly present those numbers to the School Committee. The report will include information on how many students in Wellesley attend public schools including those who are homeschooled (12 in last year’s report), attend private or parochial schools (that was 1,185) or are placed in collaboratives; charter schools; out of district public schools; or vocational technical regional schools. The numbers will ultimately determine how much State funding towns get for next year.
The SC at the meeting chose to defer action on the Homeschooling policies. They will revisit the matter at the Oct. 7, 3:30pm Policy Subcommittee meeting.