Home study peaked during Covid but still higher than before 2021
by Retta Dunlap
In the legislature this past winter, so many bills were introduced that made it all the way to the Governor’s desk. Debate will go on for a long time as to whether these bills were a good thing or not, except for the section of one bill – there is no debate. Both the Agency of Education and Vermont homeschoolers, for one brief shining moment, were on the same page working for the passage of the same language to update the home study law which is found within H.461 making miscellaneous changes in education laws.
So that you can understand the monumental accomplishment of this new language you need some background.
Before 1987, to homeschool a child in Vermont there were rules and you needed to submit a curriculum for approval. Parents would start homeschooling thinking it should not take long to get approval as there were less than 100 kids homeschooling back then. So, these parents waited patiently while educating their children. It would be months before they heard anything as those curriculums as they were passed off to the Agency of Education (AOE) where the enrollments would languish. This ended up in what the homeschooling community called “technical truancy”. No, it is not a real legal term but these kids were indeed getting an education just not in a school building.
In order to fix this, homeschoolers turned to the legislature in 1986 where the AOE and homeschoolers were at odds with one another in the State House from day one. Legislators had had enough of it and told both sides to go work it out over the summer and come back that next winter with something they both could support, which they did.
166b or the Home Study law was an amazing piece of legislation. It was written to be prescriptive as to what the state could and could not do and exactly what parents must submit to the state. The language was not based on approval but on notification that a child was going to be homeschooled and a timeline was put in place to avoid “technical truancy”. In its day it was truly a balance between the State’s interests and the rights of the parents in the education of their children.
However, bureaucracy being what it is, the administration of this statute drifted into nit picking how parents wrote their courses of study. Something the law did not intend. So much so that in 2000 a family enrolled in home study ended up in the Vermont Supreme Court where the court sided with the family and explained to the AOE what they could not hold up an enrollment forever. That they had only 45 days before enrollment happened automatically and this family was enrolled months ago.
Since I knew the history and, in an effort to clarify the law again, I worked with the then AOE Commissioner Richard Cate to help bring about another change in the statute in 2006. These changes worked for a while but as bureaucracy inevitable does, it began to go sideways again. And again, in 2019 I started to work with a new Secretary, Daniel French. We worked out some tentative language but when COVID hit this language was put on hold. The public schools were closed and families flocked to home study such that the numbers went from 2500 enrolled to over 5500 enrolled in 6 months. For these kids enrolled in home study, their education did not miss a beat during COVID. For the AOE, they were so overwhelmed with paper work it took them a year to dig out from under it.
For nearly 30 years I have been a voice for common sense change to this statute. I have met with and worked with nearly every Secretary of Ed during that time. I stressed the paper work load was not sustainable with the numbers growing as they were. After COVID, the agency finally agreed and now we have a brand-new home study statute.
Parents are to fill out a notice of intent and attest to teach the minimum course of study for at least 175 days a year and do an annual assessment maintaining that record at home. No longer does the AOE want these documents submitted to them. The state’s interest is satisfied in knowing who the children are, where they live, and who their parents/guardians are. The parental rights are acknowledged such that the primacy of the family in the education of a child is protected.
The growth of homeschooling in Vermont has trended steadily upward since the 80’s. It is the only form of education that has not lost numbers over the years as parents look at issues in the institutional settings and want something different. These issues cover the spectrum but the most common ones are issues over bullying, special ed services, and lack of child specific instruction in reading, writing, and use of numbers. Sometimes a child is simply not developmentally ready for the classroom and a year or two of homeschooling can give them enough of a break to catch up so that an institutional setting works for them again.
If you want to research homeschooling further you can start with my website at www.vhen.org and then simply Google homeschooling to find a host of information and resources. To find the state enrollment forms for submission to the state you can go to https://education.vermont.gov/home-study to either enroll online or fill out a paper form for mailing. It will take about 5 minutes of your time. For local homeschool support groups, search for them on Facebook as that is where most VT homeschoolers connect with one another.