UPDATE: My previous blog stated that the voting on proposed education bill LD 96 would take place on February 9, 2017. However, due to inclement weather it was postponed to February 27, 2017 at 10:00am in Augusta at the Cross Bldg., Room 202.
Since my last post, I also received an e-mail from the bill’s sponsor Sen. Nate Libby (D-Lewiston). I’m very thankful to Mr. Libby for his courteous response. He also shared with me his previous responses to another Maine homeschool parent’s questions. I’d like to share his responses here for some more insight into this proposed bill.
“This bill seeks to address concerns with chronically absent children whose parents/guardians have enrolled them in public school. Generally speaking, there are issues at home for these students. Parents/guardians may be low-income, suffering from mental health or drug abuse issues, domestic abuse, or other factors. The bill itself won’t cure the problem. The bill simply allows school districts, if they choose, to utilize truancy resources and truancy laws to work with children and families on a case-by-case basis for this age group (5 and 6 years old). Current law restricts the use of truancy resources and truancy laws to children age 7 and older. In Lewiston, and in other parts of the state, utilizing what’s called a “truancy officer” has showed demonstrable results. A truancy officer works in the field, having face-to-face interaction with parents/guardians and children who are chronically absent to develop working relationships, attendance plans, troubleshoot issues, assist in accessing help/programs/treatment that might help underlying causes of truancy. The idea [of parents meeting with the school board or designee] was to create a 2 tier process out of concern for advocates of home schooling. The 2 tier process is such that a parent/guardian may enroll their child but after 45 days, if for any reason the parent/guardian decides to go another route, there would be no questions asked. After 45 days, it seemed prudent to at least have a formalized check-in so that the school would know whether a child was chronically absent or the parent had made the affirmative choice to unroll their child, and not simply be skirting the truancy laws. There would be no penalty for a parent/guardian who chooses to unenroll their child. The school board would have no legal authority to “refuse” in any way shape or form. The idea was simply to have deliberate communication between the parent/guardian and the school, so that the school knows whether the parent/guardian is truly unenrolling the student, or they are attempting to skirt the truancy laws. Some schools do not have significant problems with chronic absence. Others do, and in those cases they employ a truancy officer. This bill simply allows districts with truancy officers to deploy those resources to students age 5 or 6 (in addition to students age 7 and older, as the law currently permits). I’m happy to answer any other questions. I truly intend to address a specific issue with chronic absence among young students; and in no way seek to limit or inhibit the rights of parents/guardians to make their own decisions about public-private-home school and also what age their child starts school. I welcome the opportunity to collaborate with advocates of home schooling to ensure this legislation does them no harm.”
Again, I appreciate Sen. Libby for sharing this further reflection into his proposed bill. While he states that school boards would have no legal right to reject a parent’s decision to unenroll their student from their public school, I’m still concerned about the undue stress a homeschool parent may have to go through in front of a questioning school board. If a parent chooses to homeschool their child after they were attending public school, I would hope that the school system (principals, teachers, school board members and superintendent) would be helpful in directing the parent through the correct process to begin homeschooling (Letter of Intent forms) and not humiliate them through this questioning process. Fortunately, I knew many homeschool families prior to starting homeschooling my 2nd grader this year, so I was aware of the forms I needed to have approved by the start of the school year. I believe Mr. Libby wants to work with homeschool families, however, once this bill goes out to all school districts across the state (if it passes on 02/27/17), it’ll be up to the school boards’ discretions and some may not be as understanding. I believe that if a parent appropriately files homeschool forms when they unenroll their child then they should be void of going before the school board. They have taken the appropriate steps needed to show they’re not “skirt[ing] the truancy laws.” Another point also to consider is that if a parent feels that their 5 year old is just not ready for school like they thought at first and would rather take the child out for another year (which is also legal), they would also have to go through this questioning process. Also, in some districts, the school board only meets once a month, so parents who want to homeschool their child may have to wait a whole month before they’re “approved” to do so at the next school board meeting. It’s a tough call because it’s politics and it’s never just black and white in clarity. Though the intentions for this bill seem good, this questioning in front of the school board is where I’m hesitant to support it 100%. Again, if you want to have a say in this measure, then contact the members of the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee here.