February 6, l998
Contact: Albert Lubberts [phone number]
Kelly Green [phone number]
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Provincial Advocacy Group Demands That Government Stop Harassment
GUELPH, Ontario. . . A provincial advocacy group for families practicing home-based education, or "homeschooling," has filed an official 17 page report with the provincial ombudsman's office against the Ministry of Education and Training and local school boards. Ontario families have been targeted for repeated harassment over the past several years by the Ministry of Education, to the point that some families have been forced to appear in court on trumped up charges of "truancy" or "causing their children not to attend school" without due process of law. Albert Lubberts, President of the Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents (OFTP), says that the time has come to stop this abuse of power.
Among the abuses listed in the complaint were:
· misrepresentations of legal responsibilities to home-educating parents by the Ministry and by school board officials;
· demands on the part of school boards for, among other things, frequent home visits, unsupervised access to children in order to question them about home practices, and even lists of television shows watched by children (all demands outside of the requirements of the Ontario Education Act);
· abuse of the legal "inquiry" process outlined in the Act to determine satisfactory instruction on the part of home-educating families (i.e. the calling of inquiries when there is no evidence that there is a need for such investigation, simply because families refuse to submit to school boards' extra-legal demands);
· court proceedings initiated against families with no evidence and without allowing families the due process of an inquiry;
· a campaign against private schools set up to cater to the needs of home-educating families;
· the encouragement of harassment of families by other agencies (e.g. reporting home-educating families receiving family benefits as "truant" to social services agencies, causing some families interruptions in benefits payments and considerable distress).
Lubberts says the organization conducted interviews with home-educating families across the province for a year in preparation for the submission of the report. OFTP has received hundreds of phone calls and complaints about school board harassment over the years, with the problem getting progressively worse over the past two to three years. OFTP has complained to the Ministry, and provided written documentation of its complaints many times. In a last bid to resolve the problem before initiating legal action against the Ministry, OFTP contacted the provincial ombudsman.
Says Lubberts, "We are hopeful that we can bring the Ministry and school boards to see reason via this process of mediation. OFTP believes that the Ministry should respect and limit its actions to the processes defined in the Education Act. We deplore the actions of Ministry officials who consider themselves to be above the law. Their behaviour to home-educating families constitutes both prejudice against a viable educational alternative, and harassment of individual families. There is no place for this type of prejudice in a free society, and it is certainly antagonistic to the philosophy of tolerance for diversity promoted in the public schools. The Ministry of Education and Training has misrepresented the law and its requirements to families, to the media, and to other governmental agencies. With regard to the issue of 'satisfactory instruction,' the Ministry of Education has attempted to hold families hostage, and has demanded of home-educating parents a far higher standard than is expected of public school teachers."
"It is astounding that the very institutions that are supposedly charged with protecting our freedoms and our democracy, our tolerance, and our diversity, should mount a long-term campaign against freedom of choice, and against families who choose an educational alternative of unquestionable success. Education officials clearly feel threatened by this alternative. Instead of waging war against it, they should be studying our methods to see how our successes might be translated into the public arena," continues Lubberts. He further maintains that his group will fight any changes to policy, regulation, or law, that do not reflect the truth about the success of home-based education, or that attempt to curtail the civil rights of families in their choice of educational alternative or philosophy.
Catherine Pillinger, a home-educating mother of five, and an officer of OFTP, states, "In a truly diverse and vibrant society, we need more alternatives for children, and more flexibility in meeting individual needs. The Ministry's attempt to shut down alternatives for home-educating families, if successful, will mean that only the wealthy will have an alternative to public school programs. Those who can afford it will continue to buy their way out. In what way does eliminating alternatives serve the interests of children? Those whose children's needs are met by the public school system are in no way threatened by those of us who choose a different alternative. The Ministry, and the school boards, however, seem very threatened by us. Perhaps they are afraid that if too many children are educated without the assistance of professional educators, too many jobs will be lost."
Whatever their reasons or motivations, says Lubberts, the Ministry's and school boards' biased attitudes, ignorance about home-based education, and harassment of families, will no longer be tolerated by the families of Ontario. For a look at the complete text of the Ombudsman's Report, visit [current URL is http://ontariohomeschool.org/oreport]. For more information, or for interviews with individual home-educators, please contact Albert Lubberts at [phone number] or Kelly Green at [phone number].
The Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents is a non-sectarian, non-profit organization committed to the examination and address of common concerns of home-educating parents. OFTP acts as a link between home learners in Ontario and the Ontario Ministry of Education, and lobbies the provincial government on issues of concern to home-educating families.
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