Massachusetts

  • Alternative instruction provision: Massachusetts law exempts children who are “otherwise instructed in a manner approved in advance by the superintendent or the school committee” from compulsory school attendance. Oversight of homeschooling thus falls to the local school districts, who are given some latitude in setting their own requirements. Parents must seek approval from their local school districts to homeschool. Districts may not require parents to have any qualifications, but they may require parents to provide 180 days of instruction “equivalent” to that provided in the public schools, they may require parents to keep records, and they may require annual assessments (generally by standardized test or portfolio review). Districts may deny parents approval to homeschool, but to do so they must be able to prove that the proposed program of instruction does not equal “in thoroughness and efficiency, and in the progress made therein, that in the public schools in the same town.”

Otherwise Instructed

The Massachusetts compulsory attendance law allows for an exemption for children “otherwise instructed in a manner approved in advance by the superintendent or the school committee.” See Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 76, § 1. The practical aspects of this approval were settled in Care and Protection of Charles (1987) and Brunelle vs. Lynn Public Schools (1988).

Notification: Parents must seek approval to homeschool from their local school districts. District policies regarding the granting of this approval vary widely from district to district. Many districts require parents to submit a range of information regarding the proposed educational program; some districts ask the parent to meet directly with a district representative. There are a variety of things a district cannot ask for, however, including a rationale for homeschooling, information regarding the children’s socialization, parents’ employment schedule, a statement of the child’s willingness to be homeschooled, the names of all persons living in the household, and the qualifications of tutors. The information districts ask for should focus solely on whether the proposed home education program will provide instruction equivalent to that provided in the public schools.
Qualifications: Districts may ask for homeschool parents’ qualifications, but they may not require parents to be licensed teachers or college graduates, or even to have a high school diploma or GED. Further, parents are not required to submit their transcripts.
Days or hours: Districts may require parents to submit their proposed days and hours of instruction. Public schools operate for 180 days each year and are required to provide elementary students with 900 hours of instruction per year and high school students with 990 hours. Whether or not this requirement applies to students not attending public school has never been addressed by the legislature or the court. However, districts may take proposed days and hours of instruction into consideration when deciding whether or not to grant a homeschool program approval.
Subjects: Districts may ask for an educational plan and may request access to instructional materials, but may not require parents to choose texts from an approved list. Districts are asked to bear in mind that homeschools must offer a program of instruction equivalent to, not identical to, that provided in public school. Districts also cannot require parents to follow any specific pedagogy.
Bookkeeping: Individual districts may have their own policies.
Assessment: Districts are permitted to require assessments, including standardized testing or portfolio evaluations.
Intervention: If school authorities refuse to give approval to a homeschool, they have the burden of proof to show that the proposed program of instruction does not equal “in thoroughness and efficiency, and in the progress made therein, that in the public schools in the same town.” See Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 76, § 1.
Other: n/a

Services Available to Homeschooled Students

Part-time enrollment: Yes. Homeschooled students are eligible to take classes in public schools.
Extracurriculars: Yes. Homeschooled students are eligible to participate in extracurricular activities in public schools.
Special needs: Yes. Homeschooled students with special needs are eligible for special needs services through the public schools.
Other: n/a

Background:

Guidelines for homeschooling were hammered out after the decision of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in Care and Protection of Charles (1987). The following year, in 1988, Brunelle vs. Lynn Public Schools declared that home visits could not be required as a condition of approval. These two cases set the basis for homeschooling policy in Massachusetts.

Resources:

Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 76, § 1

Guide to Homeschooling in Massachusetts, Massachusetts Home Learning Association

Court Rulings on Home Education in Massachusetts: Overview, Massachusetts Home Learning Association

Care and Protection of Charles (1987)

Brunelle vs. Lynn Public Schools (1988)

Massachusetts, International Center for Home Education Research

Homeschooling in Sommerville Public School District

Homeschooling in Cambridge Public Schools District

Homeschooling in Northampton Public Schools District

This overview is for informational purposes only and does not constitute the giving of legal advice.

Comments are closed