October 20, 2011
This afternoon VaHomeschoolers attended our annual meeting with representatives of the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) in Richmond to discuss areas of concern affecting homeschooling families as they work with their local school divisions, as well as expectations for the upcoming legislative session.
VaHomeschoolers Director of Government Affairs Amy Wilson led the meeting, which was also attended by President Parrish Mort and Scott Price, VaHomeschoolers’ lobbyist in the Virginia General Assembly. Representing VDOE were Assistant Superintendant for Policy and Communication Anne Westcott, Director of Policy Michelle Vucci, Analyst Charles Finley and Senior Analyst Sandra Peterson. VaHomeschoolers invited Yvonne Bunn, President of the Home Educators Association of Virginia, and Scott Woodruff, Senior Counsel for the Home School Legal Defense Association, to attend the meeting as well.
The principal area of concern that VaHomeschoolers brought to the table was the issue of curriculum descriptions, in particular when school divisions ask for a level of detail that goes beyond the basic description called for by the Home Instruction Statute.
We shared that this problem is not isolated to families new to homeschooling – in some cases, a curriculum description that was accepted one year can be rejected as insufficient in a subsequent year. We emphasized that this is more than a minor inconvenience for families, who are faced with the choice of providing more than the law requires or else spending time and effort in writing to their division superintendent to resolve the issue, which in some cases may require several rounds of written communication. Concerns and confusion regarding curriculum descriptions are the most frequent reasons that families contact VaHomeschoolers via our telephone helpline and our email helpdesk.
VaHomeschoolers presented a number of examples of reasonable and appropriate curriculum descriptions that had been rejected by school divisions. This week alone, we received requests for assistance from numerous families in Henrico County, who had been asked to submit a “detailed description of curriculum with content of each subject area.” We have assisted these families in their responses to the school division, and will continue to support them until matters are satisfactorily resolved.
VaHomeschoolers’ Proposed Language
At today’s meeting, Amy Wilson presented VDOE with VaHomeschoolers’ proposed language for revising the agency’s handbook, “Home Instruction in Virginia,” which addresses curriculum descriptions on page 8. VaHomeschoolers’ proposal (which we presented to HEAV and HSLDA via email and a conference call before the meeting to ensure we were all in agreement) is that the handbook should offer a clear definition of the term curriculum as “the courses offered by an educational institution” (Merriam-Webster, 2011) and should specifically state that homeschool curriculum descriptions that include a listing of courses to be studied during the upcoming academic year should be considered satisfactory under the Home Instruction Statute.
Additional information, such as lists of books or materials to be used, detailed course descriptions, textbook tables of contents, pedagogical approaches, scope and sequence or lesson plans, may be provided at the parent’s discretion, but are not required. VaHomeschoolers also drafted six different sample curriculum descriptions, which reflect a broad variety of homeschooling approaches, which we presented to VDOE for consideration.
Other Topics of Concern
VaHomeschoolers also presented VDOE with several other issues of concern to Virginia’s homeschooling families. We discussed our 2011 review of school division websites, which revealed that 25 of 131 Virginia school divisions have outdated or inaccurate home instruction policies. We will be contacting these school divisions this fall to make them aware of these discrepancies and to ask that they update their policies so that they are in conformance with the Home Instruction Statute.
In addition, we brought up the difficulties that some homeschooling families face when they need or choose to enroll a child in public school, particularly at the high school level. This is a challenging area, because VDOE does not have enforcement power over local school divisions, but we discussed strategies that parents can follow when school divisions are reluctant to evaluate homeschool coursework and consider it for possible high school credit.
Our Work Benefits You!
Overall, this year’s meeting was very positive, though it will be some time before we know what results. VDOE staff indicated they will consult Dr. Patricia Wright, Superintendent of Public Instruction, regarding the curriculum description issues we raised. We anticipate receiving a response and, hopefully, a satisfactory resolution, before the end of the calendar year. We’ll inform our members of the results.
VaHomeschoolers values its positive working relationship with VDOE, which we have worked to build over many years. Being able to meet to work on areas of mutual concern is integral to our mission to represent the interests of Virginia’s homeschooling families – your families!
If you have questions or comments about any of the issues mentioned above, please email Amy Wilson, VaHomeschoolers Director of Government Affairs, at GovtAffairs@VaHomeschoolers.org.