Maryland Homeschool Law: How is it actually applied?

When I began contemplating homeschooling a couple of years ago, I started by reading my state’s legal regulation about homeschooling. I also was quickly made aware the HSDLA fear-mongering about school officials just itching to catch homeschooling families in some legal loophole. So, in trying to follow the Maryland homeschool law, I soon realized that several of the stipulations do not make sense and could be interpreted many different ways.
I am not a lawyer and have never been involved in a legal battle of any sort (aside from a speeding ticket several years ago). I just thought I would write a series of articles about how Maryland’s homeschool regulations have played out in my home education experience and how I have interpreted the laws. Leave me a comment if you have had similar or totally different experiences in this state. If you don’t live in Maryland, you might still have similar regulations to deal with and I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments. I have been reading many other states’ homeschool laws and find it fascinating to see the wide variety that exists across the U.S.
My series on Dissecting Homeschool Law includes:

Dissecting Homeschool Law: Age for compulsory schooling

Note: This is part of a series I am writing about the actual application of the stipulations in the homeschooling regulations in the state of Maryland.

During a recent conversation, another homeschooling mom expressed concern about the increasing compulsory school attendance age. So, I perused the laws to put myself at ease. I don’t envision the upper limit being a problem for me because my child turns 18 during the summer after his senior year, although the lower limit could affect my daughter.

In July 2017, the compulsory age of attending school is increasing to 18. Last July, it was increased from 16 to 17. The school district has sent notices to homeschooling parents about this law changing multiple times over the last 2 years. The age requirement is not actually included in the homeschooling regulation linked above.  It is contained in the larger body of laws governing all education in the state, which can be found here. The law states that:

“except as otherwise provided in this section, each child who resides in this State and is 5 years old or older and under 18 shall attend a public school regularly during the entire school year.” The exceptions include “a child under the age of 18 years who:

(1) has obtained a Maryland high school diploma, an equivalent out–of–state high school diploma, or a GED;

(2) is a student with disabilities and has completed the requirements for a Maryland high school certificate of completion;

(3) is receiving regular, thorough instruction during the school year in the studies usually taught in the public schools to children of the same age;

(4) has completed an instruction program under item (3) of this subsection.”

Exceptions (3) and (4) together cover homeschooling. The wording in (3) is the exact same wording used in Maryland’s law for homeschooling. In my interpretation, there should not be any problem declaring that 17-year-old senior with a late birthday has completed his homeschool program. I can see how there may be issues if a parent tries to graduate a child earlier than that if the child has not completed a documented 13 years of K-12.

Another gray area I perceive in the law is the beginning of schooling at age 5. The school districts will only enroll children in kindergarten who turn 5 by September 1 (there is wiggle room to October 15, if the parent takes the child for gifted testing). So, any child born after that cut-off date has to wait until the next year to start school. However, the way the law way is written, it seems like on your child’s 5th birthday, bam, she needs to start school. There is an exception clause in the law that states “a child who resides in this State and is 5 years old may be exempted from mandatory school attendance for 1 year if the child’s parent or guardian files a written request with the local school system asking that the child’s attendance be delayed due to the child’s level of maturity.”  Is every parent with a child born after September 1 really filing this request?  More likely, the “shall attend a public school regularly during the entire school year” means that there is a grace period that covers the time from September 2 to the end of that school year.

If you are interested in my other thoughts on Maryland homeschool law, please check out:

 

 

Dissecting Homeschool Law: Regular, thorough instruction

Note: This is part of a series I am writing about the actual application of the stipulations in the homeschooling regulations in the state of Maryland.
A homeschooling parent must provide evidence to either the school district or a homeschool umbrella that the child is receiving the following education:
“The home instruction program shall: (a) Provide regular, thorough instruction in the studies usually taught in the public schools to children of the same age; (b) Include instruction in English, mathematics, science, social studies, art, music, health, and physical education; and (c) Take place on a regular basis during the school year and be of sufficient duration to implement the instruction program.”
Let’s first look at the “regular, thorough instruction in the studies usually taught in the public schools to children of the same age” in the eight specified subjects.  I am going to tackle them in reverse order than they are listed in the law.  My son spent grades K-4 in a public elementary school.  This is the education, on average, that he received in these subjects:
  • Physical Education happened once a week for about 45 minutes, unless there happened to be an assembly or field trip at that time.  The children stayed in their regular school clothes, whether it was sweatpants or frilly dresses.  Kids not wearing sneakers might not be allowed to participate in the gym activity.  While many activities were actual physical exercise, the class also included something that looked a lot like beer pong without the beer and bowling with duct-tape balls and small plastic dollar-store pins.
  • Health was not regularly scheduled and happened sporadically.  Sometimes it was taught by the classroom teacher and sometimes by the nurse or the counselor.  It revolved mostly around hygiene and anti-bullying.
  • Music and art each happened once a week for about 45 minutes, unless there was some other event.  We did not really see any output from music, except for one concert in 4th grade.  Art did not seem to produce much tangible output either.  We saw maybe 5 pieces of art work that came home each year, including one annually in a green plastic bag with a fundraiser attached to have that specific picture put on mugs, mousepads, and phone covers.
  • Science and social studies allegedly alternated, but also were both completely absent for at least a couple of months each year.  According to the school district’s website there were 4-5 units for each science and social studies to be covered each year, but my son could only recall working on maybe 3 of them in each subject.
  • Mathematics was done each day for about 45 minutes, unless preempted by other events.
  • English dominated the education.  In years when we were given a daily schedule of classes, at least 2 full hours every day were scheduled to include language arts and reading.
In public middle school, the regularity of all of the classes seems to be a little more assured. PE, health, art, and music each work out to about a semester-worth of time.  They are either taught on alternating days, alternating weeks, or one semester at a time.  Math, science, and social studies happen every day.  English also meets every day, plus remedial students get a bonus reading class and therefore have English twice each day.
In high school, things get complicated again, because kids don’t take all 8 of those classes even every year. Looking at the credits required to graduate from high school, the only class every student definitely takes each year is English.  Math, science , and social studies might happen every year, but many students only take each of them for three years.  Health and PE are lumped together into one course or are a semester course each, but definitely do not need to be taken more than twice during high school.  Art only has to be taken once, but a music class could be counted as art, so you don’t actually ever have to take both visual art and music in high school.
My interpretation of providing regular, thorough instruction in the 8 subjects usually taught in the public schools to children of the same age during the school year was as follows:
For elementary school-
  • Math and English every day.
  • Science and social studies each about 3 times a week.
  • PE, Music, and Art each once a week
  • Health sprinkled in about every other week.
For middle school-
  • Math, science, English, and social studies every day.
  • Art or music every day (either alternating days, weeks, or by semester).
  • PE or health every day (either alternating days, weeks, or by semester).
For high school, my plan is to figure out the credit requirements for college admission.  I will write out a plan of courses to take in future years and keep a transcript of courses already taken and provide both of those documents during reviews.  I have not homeschooled high school yet, but I will update how that plan works out.

Dissecting Homeschool Law: 15-day waiting period

Note: This is part of a series I am writing about the actual application of the stipulations in the homeschooling regulations in the state of Maryland.

To begin homeschooling in this state, the regulations state the following:

“A parent or guardian who chooses to provide a home instruction program for his or her child shall initially sign a statement on a form prescribed by the State Department of Education which: … [s]hall be submitted to the local superintendent at least 15 days before the beginning of a home instruction program.”

What do those 15 days mean and who keeps track of them?  Are they calendar days or business days or even school days?  I assume the intent to allow time for the “local superintendent” to process the form. There is also no statement that the superintendent has to acknowledge receiving the form within those 15 days.  How would a parent know if the form got lost in the mail?

Does the child have to remain in school during those 15 days? If not and the child stays home immediately after the form is mailed, does that mean that the child is not allowed to be taught anything for 15 days?  Is this some attempt at legislating deschooling?  If the child is supposed to remain in school during that time, what about cases where that is not in the healthiest interest of the student?  We do not have a requirement of proving a certain number of days of attendance in homeschooling, so no one is actually counting back to that exact date 15 days from sending the letter.  So really, what is the point of this 15-day waiting period?

Here is the 15-day waiting period played out in my case.  I sent in my intent to homeschool at the end of May when my child was finishing the school year in public school.  That way, if I decided to start some kind of education at any point during the summer, I was covered.  It took until the middle of July for someone in the homeschooling office to send an email acknowledging receipt of my letter of intent.  That email stated that my child would be added to the homeschool enrollment in the next several weeks.  Then, sometime around the early part of August, I received my official letter from school district stating that I am homeschooling for that school year.  So, it took a good 2.5 months from the time I sent my intent to homeschool until I got an official acknowledgment that my child was not going to go to return to school in the fall.

The take-away from my experience is probably that if you plan on homeschooling the next school year, just wait until August to file the paper work.  I don’t know what happens when you file the notification form during the school year.  However, filing it at the end of a school year just confuses the minds that believe learning only happens between late August and early June. The school district does not care what happens during the summer anyway, because another stipulation of the law is that the education takes place “on a regular basis during the school year.”  That regulation will be part of my next article.