The following letter was drafted and presented by OFTP members of three Eastern Ontario Home Learning Groups (Brockville, Gananoque, and Oxford) to the Trustees of the Leeds-Grenville County Board of Education (now known as the Upper Canada School Board) in an attempt to explain the position of its members, representatives of whom had been invited by the Education Policy Committee of the Board to participate in developing a Homeschooling Policy for the Board.
A Dialogue with Home-Based Educators on the Homeschooling Policy before the Board on March 24, l997.
Q1. What is the objection of Home-Based Educators to the proposed policy?
A1. The central objection is to Section 2.01. This section implies that it is the Board's role to monitor instruction provided by parents. The law gives school boards no such mandate or power.
Q2. Does it not make sense that a School Board should be actively informed on the education of all the school aged children within its jurisdiction?
A2. It makes no more sense than local Health Unit being actively informed on the diets of all the children within its jurisdiction. In our society, it is assumed that parents are providing satisfactorily for their children in all areas of life.
Q3. What safeguards are there in the rare case where a parent is not providing satisfactory education for his/her child?
A3. The safeguards are written into the Education Act, Section 24(2). It states "Where the parent or guardian of a child considers that the child is excused from attendance at school under subsection 21(2), and the appropriate school attendance counsellor the Provincial School Attendance Counsellor is of the opinion that the child should not be excused from attendance, the Provincial School Attendance Counsellor shall direct that an inquiry be made as to the validity of the reason or excuse for non-attendance and the other relevant circumstances, and for such purpose shall appoint one or more persons who are not employees of the board that operates the school that the child has the right to attend to conduct a hearing and to report to the Provincial School Attendance Counsellor the result of the inquiry and may, by order in writing signed by him or her, direct that the child, (a) be excused form attendance at school; or (b) attend school, and a copy of the order shall be delivered to the board and to the parent or guardian of the child."
Q4. Are you saying then that it is not the school board's duty to actively gather evidence of satisfactory instruction?
A4. Yes. School boards are not required to do what Section 24(2) above is designed to do. Just as in the case of the local Health Unit, when there is reason to believe that a child is dangerously malnourished, there are procedures in the law that can be invoked. The same is true in the field of education. What this draft policy does, is actively pursue the gathering of evidence assuming that all parents need to be supervised. This is our central objection.
Q5. At the Education Policy Committee meeting on March 3 Trustee Fleming asked a question similar to this: Why would the administrators of the school board choose to include this contentious provision in the policy? Why not just drop it? (He received no answer from either the Director or any of the Superintendents).
A5. The administrators are responding to suggestions in memoranda, not regulations, from some bureaucrats within the Ministry of Education requesting them to follow this line of action.
Q6. Why do some bureaucrats within the Ministry of Education urge school boards to gather evidence of satisfactory instruction from home learners?
A6. They do this because in Lambton County Board of Education vs. Mireille Beauchamp (1979) decision, Judge Kent put the onus clearly on the school officials to prove that satisfactory instruction was not taking place. In other words, the school board had to produce clear evidence that the home-educating family was not providing satisfactory instruction. This decision was consistent with the principle that one is innocent until proven guilty, and in addition, clearly respected that the parent has primary and ultimate responsibility for the education of the child.
Q7. Are you saying that some bureaucrats within the Ministry of Education were so upset by losing this case that they were willing to urge school boards to contravene the rights of parents in order to try to gather evidence that satisfactory instruction is not occurring?
Q8. Is the Ministry demanding that School Boards set up policies to ensure this is happening?
A8. No, they do not demand this, only request it. Jake Rogers, former Provincial School Attendance Counsellor, noted in a letter to Lyle McBurney of the Ontario Federation of Independent Schools in June 1988 that "Before issuing the memo (the same approach to home-based educators embodied in other Ministry directives) we need legislative changes to the Education Act pertaining to attendance/private schools/home-based education." These changes have never taken place. When asked by a reporter from a local newspaper last summer, a Ministry official stated emphatically that the local school boards are completely autonomous in the matter of homeschooling policy. Drew Kennedy, administrator with the Frontenac Board, said that the Ministry told him it is a local issue.
Q9. If then, it is truly a local issue, why do the administrators of the Leeds-Grenville Board want to include this item in the policy?
A9. Home-based educators in Leeds-Grenville would like to know the answer to this as well.
Q10. Has the Minister of Education and Training, John Snobelen made any comments on this situation?
A10. On Feb.25, 1997 in a meeting with the Ontario Federation of Independent Schools, Mr. Snobelen said that he did not see that home-based educators and independent schools had any problems with the Ministry that could not be ironed out to everyone's satisfaction. Mr. Snobelen said that, while he knew some of his predecessors and even some of his current Ministry colleagues did not agree, his personal opinion is that parents, not the Ministry or school boards, have the primary responsibility for the education of their children. This is support from a Minister of Education for the Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents' long-standing position that families have the right to choose for themselves from a wide range of educational alternatives, without undue interference from the state.
Q11. What repercussions would the adoption of the proposed policy have?
A11. Home educators are aware of no one within the home learner groups who would choose to register with the board under this proposed policy. They will continue to insist on the right of all parents to decide on their childrens education. They have no idea how the Ministry will respond when the policy compels the Board to send it a list of the names of all the home-based educated children of school age in Leeds and Grenville.
Q12. How many home-based educators are there in Leeds and Grenville at the moment?
A12. There is no certainty of the number, perhaps upwards to fifty families at the present time. Due to harassment of homeschooling people from this school board in the past, some parents prefer not to have a high profile. In Ontario at the moment there are, by a conservative estimate, 15 000 children being educated at home. It is worth noting that this translates into huge fiscal savings to the government.
Q13. What is home education anyway, and why would these parents not want the local school board having a say in what they do and how they teach?
A13. There are many reasons why parents choose to home-educate their children. For some it is a religious concern, for others, it concerns their belief that children learn best what they are interested in, in ways that accommodate their learning modalities and at a level and pace that is best for the child, or a combination of both these ideas. As Trustee Fleming noted on March 3, home education is the most natural method of teaching. It needs very committed parents who are willing to give a lot of energy, devotion and sacrifice to this important task. The methods, at times, mimic classrooms and at other times are very different. In most cases known to us, school officials don't know much about alternative educational methods and hence are not in a position to judge them.
Q14. Is there any other information a trustee should have in deciding whether or not to accept this policy as written by the Education Policy Committee?
A14. A few points come to mind.
a) The trustee represents the taxpayer. What further demands will the adoption of this policy place on diminishing revenues for the education of children within the public school system? How much time and energy have already been committed over the past two years? b) The jurisdiction of the public school trustee has no more to do with home educators under the Education Act than it does with private schools. The Act reads in Section 21(2) "A child is excused from attendance if the child is receiving satisfactory instruction at home or elsewhere." This and Section 24(2) quoted in the passages above, are the only two sections of the Act that apply to home education.
Q15. Do home scholars learn as well as students in the schools?
A15. To quote from a letter sent by Professor David L. Jeffrey of the University of Ottawa and Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, to be read by the Education Policy Committee prior to March 3, "I have, with some of my colleagues, just concluded interviewing a group of ten OAC level students for a special university entrance programme in Ottawa: the top four candidates were home schooled children. You may know that Harvard and Yale in the United States have begun offering top entrance scholarships to home educated applicants." Prof. Jeffrey cites ten studies that show superior achievement by home scholars.
Q16. Why are home-based educators suddenly so assertive about their rights?
A16. Home education is becoming more widely recognized in our society and there is more understanding of it in the popular media. Better communication among the various groups in our own counties and across the province, have led to a legal examination of our rights and to an unwillingness to tolerate past misunderstandings.
Q17. If a Trustee suspects that this draft policy will not comply with the Education Act as Home Learners so clearly insist, and that it violates the legal rights of parents as evident in all other areas of our society, how should a Trustee vote given that the Ministry of Education is supporting this policy?
A17. Policies affecting the lives of constituents, no matter how few, must conform to the laws of the land. Trustees will want to hold to this standard. The trustee should therefore vote to reconsider the wording of the policy and seek legal advice.