Six homeschooling families in Massachusetts say they are being subjected to unnecessary inquiries by the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (MDCF) for alleged educational neglect.
‘Comes Up Over and Over’
Bill Heuer, a member of the board of directors for the Massachusetts Home Learning Association, says he’s not surprised by the reports.
“This comes up over and over again,” Heuer said.
Heuer says though it’s easy to homeschool in Massachusetts, there’s a “gray area” in state education law that makes room for these type of investigations.
Massachusetts is an “approval” state, meaning the district superintendent must approve a homeschooling family’s education plan. Heuer says miscommunication can arise when some districts interpret the law to mean families need the approval of the superintendent before they remove a child to homeschool.
Hostility Toward Leavers
Heuer says unfriendly district superintendents can report children from families in transition to homeschool as truant and turn them over to MDCF. Once they have the case, families can get caught up in circles of paperwork to rectify the situation.
“Communication beforehand prevents the issue from cropping up. A little communication goes a long way,” Heuer said.
Mike Donnelly, staff attorney and director of global outreach at the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), says he’s not certain whether there is an MDCF policy prompting the investigations, but these inquiries do seem intrusive.
“I’ve worked for 10 years in Massachusetts, and my experience has been that so long as families comply with the homeschooling laws, if there’s a truancy issue, the state has said that it’s between the homeschool families and the school,” Donnelly said. “Now there’s this phrase I’m hearing, that homeschoolers are ‘not visible in the community’ and so therefore [MDCF] has to be more intrusive [and] more involved in the family to see what’s going on.
“I’m not trying to say there’s a conspiracy and the state is out to get homeschoolers, but from our perspective, the repetition of this phrase is troubling,” Donnelly said.
“I deal with a lot of social services people, and I’ve never really heard that [phrase] before, and now I’ve heard it in four different situations four different times,” Donnelly said. “Not only that, but we have a legal staff of 20 people who deal with 50 states, and we talk. That hasn’t come up before.”
Donnelly says he hopes the investigations are not intentional harassment, but HSLDA is looking into the investigations.
Jenni White ([email protected]) writes from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.