- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 10, 2008

Families who live in the District and want to home-school must be aware of new regulations the Office of the State Superintendent of Education just instituted.

The most urgent matter is that by Aug. 15 of each year, the parent or guardian must file a Home Schooling Notification Form for each child (www.seo.dc.gov/seo/frames. asp?doc=/seo/lib/seo/notice_ of_intent.pdf). If a family chooses to home-school after the school year begins, the form must be filed 15 school days - three weeks - prior to beginning home instruction.

Further, the regulations require a program for each student that is “thorough, regular instruction of sufficient duration to implement the home school program” and “includes … language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, art, music, health and physical education.”

Thankfully, the regulations specifically mention home-schoolers do not have to use programs or methods of the D.C. Public Schools, nor any other specific curriculum. However, parents must maintain a portfolio demonstrating the child’s current work in all areas. The OSSE can request in writing a meeting to review this portfolio, up to twice a school year, to ensure regular and thorough instruction is taking place.

Parents are required to have at least a high school diploma or equivalent, or may petition for a waiver with evidence of ability to provide instruction.

Should a review indicate deficiencies, the OSSE must notify the parents, who then can respond with a corrective action plan to address the specific deficiencies noted. If the parents and OSSE cannot resolve the disparity, the parents may be forced to enroll the child in a public or private school.

Families may voluntarily participate in standardized testing, if they wish. If a child is re-enrolled in a school, his or her placement will depend on evaluation by tests, exams and interviews.

The regulations are not perfect, but they do provide enough latitude for a family to carry on home education in a responsible way. Most families would find the content requirements minimal, below what they normally would do. A portfolio is a good idea anyway: The parent and student can make this a sort of ongoing “living report card.” In our family, we kept three-ring binders with each subject’s recent work in it, including the creative projects we worked on.

Parents should not be intimidated by these rulings. There are several “fail-safe” mechanisms written in, to allow for layers of proof of instruction. However, the Home School Legal Defense Association (www.hslda.org) is also a great ally in case there is a situation that threatens the family’s right to educate at home.

Most home-schoolers far exceed the level of instruction of the schools, and the results are clearly shown in their children’s superior performance in academic and other skill areas. Civil regulations like those of the OSSE are intended to “differentiate bona fide home schooling programs from instances where a child may not receive a regular and thorough education.”

If you are providing good, solid instruction for your children in the basics outlined above, you notify the district and keep the portfolio, and are ready to show it if requested, you will be compliant with the new regulations.

By the way, The Washington Times has a blog where those interested in home-schooling issues can voice their concerns, share ideas or just meet each other. Check it out at www.washingtontimes. com/communities and click on “Home School Galaxy.” See you there!

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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