Shortly after PPM131 was released in June 2002, an oppositional article by homeschooling parent and philosophy professor Graeme Hunter was published in the Ottawa Citizen. A response to the article was written by Donna Sheehan, who was involved as a representative of the Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents in the consultation process the government conducted before drafting the new policy.
We discuss PPM131 in more detail on our other pages.
The following is a response to the article submitted by Graeme Hunter published on Wednesday, July 3rd.
Mr. Graham incorrectly stated the responsibilities of homeschooling families in the province relating to Policy/Program Memorandum (PPM) #131 released by the Ministry of Education on June 17th.
As a representative of the Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents, a provincial home education support organization, and a participant in the discussions that led to the creation of the Program/Policy Memorandum (PPM) #131 that was mentioned in Graeme Hunter's article of Wednesday, July 3rd, I feel that I must clarify some of the points he made regarding this document and some of the impressions he left in his article.
First of all, Mr. Hunter leaves the impression that homeschoolers as a group are homeschooling because they don't like or are distrusting of public schools, have had bad experiences in the past, and that if the school system was better, we would all have our children in the public school system. While this is true in some cases, the majority of homeschoolers in the province have never had their children in the school system, are unknown to their local school boards, and are homeschooling for personal, family, and/or philosophical reasons. They do not dislike the public school system; they have simply chosen an educational path for their children which more closely fits their lifestyle choices and just happens to be different than the traditional path.
His article also suggests that we all now need to notify our school boards that we are homeschooling whether we are known to them or not. This document states: "If parents decide to continue to provide home schooling in subsequent years, they should give notification each year in writing prior to September 1 to the school board in whose jurisdiction their child last attended school." The Ministry knows that most homeschoolers have no desire to have contact with their local school board and do not expect homeschooling families who are unknown to them to be voluntarily contacting their local boards as a result of this policy paper. Clearly, they would like to have an idea of the official number of children being homeschooled in the province, but they know that this policy will not necessarily provide that. Therefore, the families who are expected to notify their local board of their intent to homeschool are those families who have already done so. The difference now is that they are required to do so each year.
This PPM is not legislation, and anyone who is not known to their local board who does not notify them is not breaking any laws. If the board becomes aware of a homeschooling family in their jurisdiction this is not credible evidence in and of itself that satisfactory instruction is not taking place. The board can request a letter of intent and the family can choose a course of action at that point.
The present document instructs school boards to "consider the child to be excused from attendance at school, in accordance with subsection 21(2), clause (a), of the Education Act. The board should accept the written notification of the parents each year as evidence that the parents are providing satisfactory instruction at home." They are therefore absolved of determining satisfactory instruction.
Mr. Hunter states that one of the reasons which entitles boards to investigate homeschoolers include "evidence that the child was removed because of ongoing conflicts with the school." He didn't finish the sentence. The document states evidence that the child was removed because of ongoing conflicts with the school, not for the purposes of homeschooling." This is reasonable.
He states that "the most objectionable aspect of the memorandum... is its preposterous fundamental premise. The school board will now be empowered to investigate wherever it feels that satisfactory instruction is not being given."
Actually, this statement is incorrect. Yes, the new policy directs boards to initiate an investigation if there are compelling reasons to suggest that there may be 'educational neglect'. However, the Education Act has not been amended; the law has not changed with this new policy and so it remains that only the ministry of education can actually conduct an 'official' inquiry into whether or not a family is providing satisfactory instruction.
While Mr. Hunter enjoys the relative freedom of living in an area of the province in which school boards respect a parent's right to take responsibility to educate their children, this PPM represents a great advancement in the lives of homeschoolers in many parts of the province where school boards have been intrusive and often confrontational in their insistence on assessing the 'satisfactory instruction' . As Mr. Hunter pointed out in his article, these same boards are the ones who seem to be failing many of the children in the public system. This irony has not been lost on homeschooling families. However, as evidence of a step forward, this new policy clearly directs boards to accept the reality that homeschooled children ARE receiving satisfactory instruction and no longer do homeschooling families have to experience harassment, truancy charges or threats of calls to the Children's Aid Society which have been commonplace in the past.
Furthermore, this PPM instructs school boards to "recognize that the methodology, the materials, schedules, and assessment techniques used by parents who provide home schooling may differ from those used by educators in the school system" thereby protecting the rights of parents to provide an individualized educational approach for their children. Parents may follow the Ontario Curriculum Guidelines or choose their own path.
With change there is always trepidation. This document is a result of years of discussions with the Ministry of Education in an effort to create a less contentious and more consistent relationship between homeschoolers and school boards. It is not perfect and it does not address all of the inequities in the system but it is a policy to build upon. The rights of homeschoolers have not been compromised.
Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents