Maryland Homeschool Regulatory Changes: Why You Should Be Concerned

The Maryland Board of Education voted on September 22, 2015 to publish proposed changes to homeschool regulations. You can download and read a copy of the complete regulations. Words [marked in brackets] propose to remove that specific language from the current regulations. Highlighted words propose to add that new language.

On the surface, many homeschool families are scratching their heads about the proposed changes. While this blog is not written by lawyers and is not to be considered legal advice, it is written to provide you with important information to help you understand how the changes might affect homeschooling in Maryland.

The changes fall under three broad categories.

Change #1

County homeschool liaisons will be required to provide families with a “written” notification of what precisely is lacking in their homeschool portfolio, should the family be found not in compliance with the regulations.

MSDE’s Rationale: None given.

MDHSA’s Opinion: This is a positive change. Any family who is found to be noncompliant with the homeschool regulations deserves to have written notice of what they’re expected to remediate.

Action: Support this change





Change #2

Parents will no longer be required to “teach his or her child at home”. Instead, the change allows parents to “provide a home instruction program” for their child.

MSDE’s Rationale: As stated in an MSDE issued summary memo, “this change gives parents and guardians the option to teach their child(ren) directly or to arrange for instruction to be delivered by another person (e.g. family member, neighbor, private tutor) either inside or outside of the home (e.g. online, office space, library). Regardless of the method of instruction, the parent or guardian as the “provider” would be ultimately responsible for meeting all requirements in COMAR.”

MDHSA’s Opinion: On the surface, this appears to be a benign and welcome change. While MSDE’s stated rationale seems well-intentioned, we believe this change needs to be strengthened by additional language.

Because “home instruction program” is not specifically defined anywhere in law, it is left open to interpretation. Some families are concerned that “program” will be construed to mean that a family must use a formal curriculum or material that is aligned with Common Core. That concern is not unfounded.

From a legal perspective, when fuzzy terminology is challenged in court, judges rely on language relating to similar issues to help settle disputes. If you look elsewhere in Maryland’s education regulations, you’ll find that each subject area, like math and social studies, extensively defines what an “instructional program” must include – and that means courses MUST use Common Core. Maryland colleges also define “’Program’ as a structured and coherent course of study with clearly defined objectives and intended student learning outcomes . . .”

Action: Include the following additional language to the currently proposed change:

provide a home instruction program, such as but not limited to traditional curriculum and textbooks, unit studies, online courses, parent-constructed curriculum, tutors, dual-enrolled college classes, and or other instructional options chosen by the parent or guardian





Change #3

MSDE will now explicitly allow homeschool students to be dually enrolled in college classes. In addition, families “shall” be required to give their homeschool liaison a copy of their child’s dual-enrolled college transcript during their compliance review. Finally, families who review under an umbrella will be required to obtain permission from their umbrella prior to dually enrolling their student in a class.

MSDE’s Rationale: “In recent years home school coordinators have received numerous inquiries about dual enrollment for home school students. Because the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) historically limited home school to instruction at home from a parent, dual enrollment was only available on a supplemental basis.”

MDHSA’s Opinion: Serious problems exist with this proposed change to Maryland homeschool regulations. We’ll explain that below, but we need to give you some background information, first.

A couple of years ago, the General Assembly passed the College and Career Readiness Act of 2013. MDHSA was aware of this bill but because it did not specifically address homeschoolers, we did not hold an opinion on it, one way or another. In a nutshell, CCRA seeks to have 55% of Maryland adults between the ages of 25 and 64 obtain an Associates Degree by 2025.

When MSDE staff introduced the proposed changes to the state school board at its September meeting, it did so with a lengthy prologue referencing CCRA. Staff emphasized the need to open up dual enrollment options to homeschoolers. So, what does CCRA have to do with homeschool regulations?

Technically, CCRA has nothing to do with Maryland homeschoolers. While this college readiness initiative includes financial incentives to public school students to attend community college for free, homeschoolers do not benefit from this free ride in any way. This was a point specifically addressed at the MSDE Board meeting.

Yet, when you look more closely at the language of the actual College and Career Readiness law, you’ll find what’s really at the heart of the matter.

Section 24–703.1 of CCRA requires that by December 15 of every year the Maryland General Assembly must receive a report that includes the number of dual enrolled students in the state, as well as the course name for each class a student is enrolled in.

You can also follow the money to see where this is leading to. Maryland is seen as a national leader in college readiness initiatives – and that means big grant money. Maryland has already scored a Complete College America grant from the Gates Foundation. As a Game Changer State, Maryland is now providing statistical information on all students who are enrolled in 2- and 4-year colleges.

Do you see where this is going? Maryland has a vested interest in reporting significant increases in their dual enrollment numbers.

What MSDE fails to be willing to discuss is that, under current regulations, Maryland homeschool students DO NOT need permission from their county homeschool liaison – from their registered umbrella group – nor from MSDE to enroll their student in part-time college classes. More importantly, homechool families have never needed to obtain permission from any state or local authority to exercise their right to homeschool their children or to use a specific type of instructional or curricular method.

Current practice across the state has created a mutual understanding between homeschool families and county liaisons that dual enrollment is an acceptable form of “teaching” that parents have opted for their children for more than 10 years. Existing regulations relating to public colleges already make it perfectly clear – and legal – that community colleges and public universities, like Towson, UMBC, and College Park, can admit students who have not yet graduated high school, as long as those students can pass the Accuplacer test or show some other documentation that they can handle the coursework.

Still, MSDE insists that “allowing” dual enrollment can only benefit homeschoolers. In fact, MSDE is so enthusiastic about homeschoolers and dual enrollment, that the proposed changes will require families to submit transcripts to their county liaison during their compliance reviews. [See proposed change to 13A.10.01.01.D(2)] This change is a significant departure from current regulations, which allow parents the right to choose what their child’s homeschool portfolio consists of. Families have never been required to submit grades or transcripts as part of their compliance review.

Think you have a choice in keeping your homeschool child’s transcript out of the state’s hands? Think again. Refusing to provide a copy will result in you being found noncompliant with homeschool regulations – which means your child will be promptly enrolled in school. [See proposed change to 13A.10.01.03.A]

MSDE administrators and the Assistant Attorney General for MSDE, in conversations with MDHSA, continue to insist that no ulterior motives exist for the proposed changes to homeschool regulations. Pacifying remarks about how these changes will make it easier for homeschoolers to dually enroll in college classes and obtain credits to be applied towards graduation requirements only serve to highlight the faulty logic that’s being served up to justify these changes.

Action: Request that all new language pertaining to dual enrollment and initially recommended by MSDE be removed from the proposed changes to homeschool regulations.


* * * This blog is NOT to be considered legal advice. * * *


What do you think of the proposed changes to
Maryland homeschool regulations?

9 Comments on Maryland Homeschool Regulatory Changes: Why You Should Be Concerned

  1. At the current time, the compulsory age is 16 for attending school in Maryland. It is my understanding that after that, a homeschooled child is considered a “drop-out” to the school system. Portfolios are no longer required. How would this fact affect the proposed “Dual Enrollment” change?

  2. The compulsory school age in Maryland is now 17 and will go up to 18 in another year or so. Technically, once a homeschooler surpasses the compulsory school age they are NOT considered a drop out – unless their parent declares them as such. You are, however, no longer required to continue with county compliance reviews, unless you choose to. As far as dual enrollment goes, a student can only be dually enrolled a long as they are still a high school student. Once a family declares their child graduated from homeschool high school – OR the student obtains their GED, the student must apply, be accepted, and enroll as an incoming college freshmen.

  3. Hi
    Im just trying to understand my part as a homeschool parent. When and where do we meet to come up with a plan? I have only been in this environment… Homeschool, for two years. What are we suppose to say and do?

  4. Is there a direct link to the webpage on where to find the proposed change to the language? Thank you.

  5. Please do not support any of these changes, including #1. Especially #1. I don’t know why any homeschooling parent or organization would consider this welcome or benign. A portfolio reviewer handing you a list of what is missing from your review? And if a parent disagrees with the reviewer’s opinion?? Because that’s all it is, an opinion of what’s missing given by the reviewer; perhaps based on the County’s interpretation of the law. Both the reviewer and the County are biased against homeschoolers. None of the reviewers I’ve met have ever even homeschooled, including those gov’t employees given the title “homeschool specialist”. I had one reviewer tell me that they are trained to “not take the parent’s word for it” as a reason to demand I show something not required by law – we can only guess at what else is part of that training. After living, traveling, and homeschooling all over the U.S. and world, only in MD have I ever felt like I was a being accused of a crime because I school my own kids.

    The current MD Comar is very vague in what is required to be shown at a review – examples of work from each subject. That ambiguity is the only thing protecting any parent, who is actually homeschooling, from being arbitrarily labeled as “non-compliant”. I (as well as others) are constantly being asked to provide “evidence” that is obviously not listed in the Comar as being required. Personally, I have been asked to bring my children to reviews, fill out additional paperwork, sign forms, date materials, put kids names on papers, provide calendars, show curriculum, list curriculum, bring letters from piano teachers…the list is endless. Giving any reviewer the legal right to list what is missing from a portfolio and you essentially give them the legal right to harass, intimidate, and criminalize anyone they deem unworthy of home education.

    • Yes! I completely agree with your “only in Maryland did it feel as if I was being accused of a crime”. I came here from Texas where I have lived all my life (husband is military) and we are really wishing the military had its own homeschool laws because changing state to state to state is torture for us. Especially when we came from a state that puts its faith in homeschool moms instead of scrutinizing every tiny detail of our daily lives.

  6. Christine, you asked about what to do… Here is an email to Maryland parents from the Home School Legal Defense Association. They do an excellent job of mobilizing opposition to dangerous laws. Please consider this short letter and please consider joining if you are not already a member:

    Flawed Regulations Proposed
    Frederick Douglass
    “Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.”

    —Frederick Douglass
    • • •

    Dear HSLDA members and friends:

    Two important freedoms are in jeopardy because of proposed homeschool regulations made public earlier this week.

    Maryland law currently does not require a homeschool student in an umbrella program to obtain their umbrella’s approval before enrolling in a college class. A proposed regulation would take this freedom away.

    Maryland law currently does not require a student operating under county supervision to give his college report card to the county reviewer. A proposed regulation would take this freedom away. Submitting a report card should be an option, not a mandate.

    HSLDA and several other statewide homeschool organizations are united in asking the Department of Education to change the proposed regulations to repair these two flaws. We are not requesting that families take action right now. We are waiting to hear if the Department will agree to support the changes we are requesting.

    Other proposed changes in the regulations are somewhat helpful or inconsequential.

    Background

    The Maryland statute that governs homeschooling, section 7-301, is crystal clear that parents have complete freedom in deciding where, how, and from whom a homeschooled child receives instruction. The homeschool regulations that implement section 7-301 are perhaps not quite as clear. However, since the statute is a higher authority than the regulations, there has never been any legitimate question that homeschool parents can utilize whatever resources they want to deliver instruction.

    Despite the fact that regulation COMAR 13A.10.01.01.F forbids local school system from requiring families to submit to any rules other than those in the state regulations, some school systems told families that parents must personally teach a certain percentage of their child’s classes. Other school systems said homeschooled children could not take college classes. In an ideal world, every time a school system tried to impose one of these trumped-up rules, the parents would graciously and firmly refuse to submit to injustice.

    But sometimes families complied out of fear when the school system threatened to “flunk” them for not complying with the spurious rules. Their quiet submission to this injustice encouraged the school systems to keep on targeting the vulnerable. And so the the cycle of abuse continued in those localities.

    Setting aside for the moment the issue of the two very significant flaws outlined above, most of the proposed regulations are designed to bring a halt to these abuses.

    For example, they make it clear that homeschool students can enroll part time or full time in accredited or unaccredited college classes. Another deletes the long-obsolete (and universally ignored) requirement that only correspondence classes can be used for students in umbrella programs. The regulation saying a parent may “teach his child at home” is being replaced by a regulation that says a parent may “provide a home instruction program”, affirming section 7-301 and making it clear that the location of the instruction and the identity of the instructor is a parental freedom. If a superintendent wants to tell a family that their program is deficient, he or she must do so in writing under a proposed regulation.

    These rules should never have been necessary. But they are arguably necessary, and so we welcome them. As welcome as they are, they are not worth the price of surrendering liberty. For this reason, HSLDA and the other organizations involved will continue to work to repair the flaws.

    Sincerely Yours,

    Scott Woodruff
    HSLDA Senior Counsel

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