In the state of Maine, the law currently states that a child must be enrolled in school (public, private, or homeschool) by their seventh birthday. What that means realistically is that schools can begin tracking a child’s attendance record at age seven. Of course, public schools track all students’ attendance records once they begin kindergarten (age five), but legally, attendance does not need to be recorded until they are seven years old. This also means that parents can legally keep their child from enrolling in formal education until the child is seven years old. In our society, it has become commonplace for parents to send their children off to school at the young age of five, starting in kindergarten. I think most parents are not aware of the law and thus, send their child whether the child is ready for formal schooling or no. Once enrolled, if a child becomes truant in school (after the age of seven), measures are taken to get that child back in school (sometimes this means sending a truancy officer to the child’s home). Technically, according the present law, if a child is five years old and becomes truant, the school shouldn’t be sending truancy officers to the child’s home.
Tomorrow, February 9, 2017, the Maine State Education and Cultural Affairs committee will be voting on LD 96 (SP44) “An act to improve attendance at public elementary schools.” This legislation is being sponsored by Senator Nathan Libby (D-Lewiston). Here is the summary of this legislation, This bill provides that a person 5 years of age or older who is enrolled in public day school is required to attend during the time it is in regular session. The bill provides that a person 5 years of age or older and under 7 years of age may withdraw from school at any time within the 45 days after enrollment and may withdraw from school after 45 days after enrollment after consultation with the school board or its designee. The bill provides that students who are at least 5 years of age and enrolled in a public day school are subject to the same provisions regarding truancy as students who are at least 7 years of age and have not completed grade 6 who are required to attend a public day school. The bill provides that a person 5 years of age or older and under 7 years of age is not required to meet the alternatives to attendance requirements set forth in the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 20-A, section 5001-A, subsection 3.
By the sounds of it, it seems like Senator Libby is just trying to battle a major truancy issue current in Maine. For this, I applaud him and his co-sponsor, James Handy (D-Lewiston), who undoubtedly see there is a rising truancy issue in this state. There seems to be some leeway for withdrawing your child if you choose to send them to a private institution or to homeschool. However, what I take an issue with, as do MANY other homeschool families right now, is the process in which a parent will now have to take to withdraw from public school once they’ve been enrolled. It can easily be looked over in this writing, so I’ll draw it out for you: “may withdraw from school after 45 days after enrollment after consultation with the school board or its designee.” My first issue is that you have only 45 days to decide if kindergarten or first grade is going to work for your child. After the 45 days passes, this bill doesn’t state what a parent will be allowed or not allowed to do to withdraw their child. Second, I take issue with the process a parent will have to go through to withdraw their child. Currently, a parent just has to send a letter of intent to homeschool to their local public school’s principal and superintendent. When I started our homeschooling journey this year, there were absolutely no issues with withdrawing my son from public school. I had full freedom to choose how my child will be educated. Now, parents are going to have to present their case before the school board. The school board will then question the parent in their decision to homeschool and ultimately will grant permission or deny the request. Essentially, all freedom of choice in education could be stripped from the parents – homeschool or private schools.
If you want to make sure that your parental rights in deciding the best way to educate your children are not hindered by this bill, then call your representatives in Augusta TOMORROW morning! The number for the Legislative Information Office is 207-287-1692. Voting will take place in the 1:00pm hour so be sure to call before then.
If that doesn’t put some fire under you, check out this story from WKBW News in Buffalo, NY: Was Buffalo Mom Jailed Over Homeschooling Decision. We don’t want this to happen to anyone here in Maine, either!!