Due to the failure of the Ombudsman's office to make a ruling of OFTP's submission concerning the harassment of homeschooling families by local school boards across the province, discussions with the Ministry of Education began in 1997 in an effort to create a less contentious and more consistent relationship between homeschoolers and school boards. There have been many attempts over the years to address this inconsistency, including a 'best practices' document. Despite these attempts there were still letters from school boards to homeschooling families threatening truancy charges. Neither of these strategies proved to be effective. However, during the course of these discussions and due to the effectiveness of OFTP's varied efforts, public perception of homeschooling increased enormously. OFTP's efforts to describe the successes of homeschooling were presented and supported in the press, circulated within school boards, acknowledged by Ministry of Education officials and as a result, changes within the government regarding homeschooling began to occur.
On April 26, 2001 the Ontario government presented an Action Plan entitled "21 Steps into the 21st Century". Under Step10, Flexibility and Choice in Education, it stated,
"The government will eliminate the institutional bias against home schooling. The Ministry of Education will facilitate homeschool parents' access to standard tests and other learning tools".
Once this throne speech was delivered, one of the first actions the government embarked on was to address institutional bias at the post-secondary level for homeschooled students. Changes in May 2001 to the funding policy, now allows universities to receive provincial funding for homeschooled students. As a consequence of this policy change, the persistent lobbying by OFTP volunteers, and the efforts of OFTP's Post-secondary Admissions project, every Ontario university has committed to creating an admission policy for homeschooled students.
Policy/Program Memorandum (PPM) No. 131 is the operational tool which illustrates the government's commitment to removing institutional bias, provide access to standardized tests and learning tools. The policy provides direction to parents and school boards about their responsibilities, lists which government resources homeschooling families may access (the Ontario Curriculum listed on their web site), and provides the opportunity for homeschooled students to sit the standardized tests offered in schools by EQAO.
On June 17, 2002 the Ministry of Education released a Policy/Program Memorandum 131. The purpose of the memorandum is to provide direction to parents and school boards concerning policies relating to homeschooling. The portion of this document which is most relevant to the families who are homeschooling their children can be found in the first part of the document under the heading: Home Schooling Procedures.
This section directs parents who are homeschooling their children to provide their school board with a letter of their intent. The information required is quite minimal; names, ages, and gender of their school aged children and an indication the parents understand their responsibility to provide for the education of their children as indicated in Section (21) 2 of the Education Act. Parents may use Appendix B provided in this document for this purpose or provide the required information in a letter.
The second portion of this section directs school boards to excuse school aged children in the home from compulsory attendance once the board has received this notification/letter of intent from the family to homeschool,
"the board should accept the written notification of the parents each year as evidence that the parents are providing satisfactory instruction at home".
This is the portion of the document which represents a major gain for homeschooling families in Ontario. No longer will school boards be required to engage in an investigation of homeschooling families to determine if satisfactory instruction is taking place before the boards will excuse children from compulsory attendance at school. Following the procedure outlined in the new PPM, boards are directed to excuse children from compulsory attendance once families have sent in their notification/letter of their intent to homeschool.
We remind families that representatives of OFTP have been meeting with the Ministry of Education and various school board officials over the past five years in an attempt to create a consistent and less contentious relationship between school boards and homeschooling families. We would expect families to recognize this document is an attempt by the Ministry of Education to conciliate both sides of the homeschooling issue.
There are portions of this document which seem to contradict what has been commonly known to be OFTP's official stand on homeschooling issues. OFTP recognizes that this new policy, released by the Ministry of Education, and after consultation with the homeschooling community, provides an opportunity for positive changes and a better environment for families in Ontario to homeschool their children.
However, the release of this PPM has not changed our position and clearly, OFTP will continue to support parental choice in education as stated in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. It is the official position of OFTP that homeschooling families are making decisions which they consider to be in the best interests of their children. If a local school board presumes a different opinion, (the PPM outlines a few of the reasons why a school board would consider an investigation necessary), the board has the option to initiate an investigation and follow defined procedures to determine if satisfactory instruction is occurring in the home.
Recognizing that the experience of home-based education does not always look like 'traditional' schooling, the PPM includes a paragraph which clarifies for school boards not to expect to find the homeschooling experience to appear as 'school-at-home'. This description, within the section 'Board Investigation of Homeschooling' and under the subsection 'Guidelines for Conducting an Investigation', reads as follows:
"Whether meeting with the family or reviewing information submitted in writing, board officials should recognize that the methodology, materials, schedules, and assessment techniques used by parents who provide homeschooling may differ from those used by educators in the school system. For example, the parent may not be following the Ontario curriculum, using standard classroom practices in the home, or teaching within the standard school day or school year."
Clearly, this statement is a recognition of homeschooling as not only a viable alternative to public education, but also a recognition that the educational experiences found within each home are unique to each family.
I just saw the new policy on the Ontario Ministry of Education website and
I think it is a great step forward!
It is wonderful that the board must assume I am providing satisfactory instruction at home. They must treat me as innocent until proven guilty and the onus is now on the board to prove I'm "guilty" (credible evidence must exist to launch an investigation), not on me to prove year after year that I'm "innocent" (through home visits, work sample submissions etc).
There are many other good things in this policy as well (as I'm sure you know!):
- specifies a member of a recognized support group can attend any meetings during an investigation;
- reminds the boards that the entire education methodology used by the homeschooling parents may differ significantly from those used by educators in the school system and that's okay;
- that the parents have access to support for their children through local community care access centres etc.
I just wanted to take a moment to thank the OFTP for its hard work and involvement in getting the homeschooling policy in Ontario revised.