Homeschoolers speak out at town hall meeting
Charles County Public Schools is forming a committee to take a look at its homeschool verification system after dozens of homeschool parents turned out at its public forum Monday night to share their frustration with the homeschool verification process.
Under the Maryland State Department of Education’s Code of Maryland Regulations, or COMAR, Section 13A.10.01.01-.05, homeschool parents are required to maintain a portfolio of materials related to their children’s instruction and allow school system representatives to review the portfolio during the school year to “ensure that the child is receiving regular, thorough instruction.”
However, several parents who spoke during the meeting alleged that they were being required to present more evidence of instruction than was required under COMAR.
Several parents said the review process has changed under its new coordinator and new reviewers.
Approximately 60 people attended the meeting and 11 spoke out regarding their experiences this year.
Chris Irwin, a homeschool parent and teacher at Robert E. Lee High School in Fairfax County, Va., said his wife was told they needed to present tests for their kindergarten-age student.
“COMAR does not specify either formative or summative evaluations for kindergarteners,” Irwin said.
Lisa Harris, another homeschool parent of seven years, said her reviewer required test results for her kindergarten-age student.
“I informed her that I have never tested nor would I ever test my kindergartener,” Harris said.
Janet Doyle said she has been homeschooling for 20 years.
“There have been small changes, from year to year, but nothing like this,” she said. “Nothing in the law has changed, so these changes are really concerning and take away from what we are tr ying to do.”
Lisa Gonzalez, a homeschooling parent and nursing professor at the College of Southern Maryland, said there are many different ways of demonstrating that rigorous instruction is occurring.
“One of my concerns is that the reviewers may not have had training in the methods and strategies that are flexible and work for various homeschoolers,” Gonzalez said.
Sarah MacMillan, director of the Southern Maryland Catholic Schoolhouse, said parents were concerned about the change in tone this year.
“We do not appreciate being treated as common criminals, like we are neglecting our children, because nothing could be further from the truth,” MacMillan said. “We have every right under the law to homeschool our children.”
Amy Hollstein, assistant superintendent of instruction, said she was unaware of any homeschool issues prior to the day of the meeting and apologized if anyone was made to feel unwelcome.
“That was never our intent,” Hollstein said.
Hollstein said that in the past, the school system had only one or two reviewers and that more were trained to lessen the workload.
“It was overwhelming, and we did not feel we were doing justice by any of you, or your children,” Hollstein said.
Hollstein invited homeschool parents to join a committee she would be forming to review homeschool procedures.
“We can sit down together and look at things that possibly we made mistakes on, and correcting those mistakes, and we can share with you some of the things we were trying to improve on, and making sure that we don’t have an overzealous person looking at your portfolios, but that we have consistency,” Hollstein said.
Superintendent Kimberly Hill said the school system appreciates homeschool parents bringing the matter to its attention.
“We respect your passion, and we had no intent of not following COMAR, and no intent in causing all of this stress to folks who are Charles County residents who choose to do things differently,” Hill said. “We will look into all of the specifics that you have given us so that we can fix anything that needs to be fixed and communicate better where we need to communicate better.”