In Nova Scotia, we have a Regional Education Officer (REO) who oversees homeschool registrations and reports, answers new homeschooler’s questions and acts as the liaison between the Department of Education and Homeschool families. Currently, the REO position is in transition. It has moved from Truro to Halifax and is being filled by Dr. Alan Lowe, Senior Executive Director Public Schools. Supervising the REO is the Director, Regional Education Services. This post is held by Mr. Jim Burton. The purpose of these positions is to be accountable to the Education Act and thus the Minister of Education with regard to the relationship with and progress of the Homeschool community in the province. Mr. Burton was involved in the original writing of the Education Act and worked closely with Marion Homer and Jennie Ernst, pivotal founding families for the homeschooling movement in Nova Scotia. The Education Act is enabling legislation guaranteeing the right of families in Nova Scotia to direct their children’s education. It is responsive and requires communication between the Department of Education and homeschool families.
On October 14th, representatives from Nova Scotia Home Education Association (NSHEA), Home Educating Mothers’ Support (HEMS) and Home Based Learners of Nova Scotia (HBLNS) met with the Regional Education Officer (at the time the position was held by Dr. Frank Covey) and the Director of Regional Education Services. This group, or representatives from the entities, meet annually to review and discuss the relationship between Homeschoolers and the Department of Education. Topics range from registration and report dates, details to enrollment numbers and services available to homeschoolers through the Department of Education.
This year’s meeting showed that we have approximately 753 registered homeschool students in Nova Scotia. That number fluctuates throughout the year as families re-evaluate their educational alternatives. All children between the ages of six and 16 must be enrolled in an educational program. After 16, students are not required to register, but they may continue to be registered up to the age of 21. There are also families who, contrary to the Act, choose not to register.
“Sally, please clean up your room.” asks mother. “Do I have too?” moans an unhappy voice. “We have an agreement.” reminds mother. “All right.” concedes Sally. In a little while, Sally bounds out of her room, excitedly announcing that her room is ‘cleaned up’ and she is headed out to play. Later that day, Mother goes into Sally’s room to leave her laundry basket and notices something under the bed. She leans down, lifts the bed skirt and discovers… Mount Vesuvius – ready to erupt. Everything from the middle of Sally’s floor is now under her bed! Sally has followed the letter of the law in that her room looks clean, but she has not respected the spirit of the law.
“Timothy, I would like you to split the firewood please and stack it.” “Sure Dad, I can do that, no problem.” Later, after Timothy is finished, Dad comes out and is displeased to find that the wood is stacked on the left side of the shed instead of the right side. Also, he notices that not all of the pieces are exactly the same size. He likes them to be the same size because it makes it easier for him to plan his fires. When Timothy comes in, Dad expresses his frustration. “Dad, you asked me to split and stack, I’ve done what I was supposed to do, I’ve fulfilled our agreement.” (Of course, he says this in a most respectful manner.) Dad was asking for more than was agreed upon and in turn Timothy was defensive and may be reluctant to help so willingly in the future.
Expectations are vital components of effective communication and relationships. If we do not understand what is expected of us or if we have unreasonable or unexpressed expectations of others, our relationships will be fraught with frustration, disappointment and conflict.
The Education Act and Registrations
Complaints have come from some homeschoolers that their registration forms were being returned with “not approved” messages. In Nova Scotia, according the the Education Act, it is law that families register with the Department of Education to show a ‘notice of intent’ to homeschool. This is not a permission slip and a family is not ‘approved’ or ‘denied’. The Act gives the right to families to choose the method of education for their children but it does require notification. (section 128 1, 2a) We addressed this at the meeting and the Regional Education Officer (REO) acknowledged the confusion and was very amenable to making changes.
The REO did express concern with the registrations in that they followed the letter of the law by registering, but not the spirit of the law, supported by section 128 5b. This requires that “the home education program is adequately addressing the child’s needs”. The registration form includes a section called Program Information. This section is not detailed in the Act, but the Department of Education is looking for more detail than a list of library books. Having a very basic outline of the year’s goals allows the REO to measure progress when the reports are returned in June. Section 5 mandates the REO’s responsibility to ensure that homeschooled children are a) making reasonable educational progress; b) the program is adequately addressing the child’s needs; and c) the available public school program will not do more to further the child’s educational progress than the home education program. If parents are unwilling to provide program information then the REO will need to make further inquiries (which may be perceived as invasive) and a higher potential for conflict will arise. This is in no way advocating the provision of minute details, rather, in the case of a program that is not commercially available, providing specific learning goals.
The question was raised as to whether students pulled from public school during the spring were still required to register as homeschoolers. The REO identified the reality that the preparation required for homeschooling disallowed the likely-hood of parent created programs being listed on registrations. He suggested that the schools still bore a portion of the responsibility for the child until the end of year was completed and support could be available from the public school. A parent not wanting to avail themselves of the public school and not yet prepared to provide a specific learning plan should contact the REO. Any resources available, such as support groups and their websites, would be shared at that time and questions would be answered.
The Education Act and Reports
The Education Act requires homeschool families to provide the Department of Education with a report card in June (section 128 (1)b). As with the registration, the purpose of the report falls under section 128 (5) as recorded above. If parents do not provide this information, the REO under the authority of the Minister of Education, pursuant to section 128 (4), may require the parent of the homeschool child to provide evidence of the child’s educational progress by submitting one or more of the following as the parent determines: a) results of a standardized test (CAT 3); b) an assessment from a qualified assessor; or c) a portfolio of the child’s work, as prescribed by the regulations. In the effort to provide as little information as possible, parents may put themselves in the position of having to provide even more than was originally required.
Section 129 of the Education Act is the ‘enforcement’ section. This gives the Minister the right to terminate the parents’ right to homeschool. No one wants to reach that stage of conflict. By adhering to the mandates of the Act this unwanted situation can be avoided.
The Regulations are explanations of the Act that provide clarity and definition where questions may arise. Section 39 covers registrations, Section 40 reports and Sections 41 – 43 deal with qualified assessments and assessors. These Regulations are used in conjunction with the law and need to be followed as the ‘spirit of the law’.
A homeschool registration form is a legal document. Once signed, it may not be altered without the signer’s consent. If there are questions about the registration, including grade levels, no one can change what has been written without the signer’s permission and indication on the form that the signer is aware of and approves of the change. This could mean sending the form back to the family for initials, written consent (even if by email) or the family resubmitting the registration form with the necessary amendments.
Age – The age for school registration in Nova Scotia is five by December 31. The Department of Education is requiring a copy of a birth certificate for the student’s first year of schooling. If a copy of the child’s birth certificate is not available, the parent will need to contact the Department of Education to make other arrangements. Although in public schools students are occasionally moved up or held back, this allowance is not made for homeschool registrations. Nova Scotia requires 13 years of schooling and expects ages to correspond. Should the student accelerate the program the parent can indicate that on the form, put the age appropriate grade down or contact the REO to make acceptable arrangements.
Graduation Requirements – An update was given on the status of the Career and Life Management half credit. For all students post 2008/2009 the course is no longer required. The complimentary Physically Active Lifestyle half credit has been increased to a full credit and is required to graduate in the public school system. How does this affect homeschoolers? It does not unless you are planning your academic courses to correlate with the public school system; which may have the benefit of making it easier for students to transition into public school or post-secondary institutions.
Portfolios – The growth of homeschooling in Nova Scotia has been gradual, but the results have been consistently positive and it is becoming easier every year for homeschooled students to enter post secondary programs and obtain scholarships. The Department of Education strongly recommends the development of a portfolio for each homeschooled student. By keeping samples of a student’s work, it is a simple process to show educational progress if requested by the Department. At the high school level, the portfolio is a useful tool to help gain admission to the post secondary institution of choice and increase the opportunity to earn scholarship money.
Committee for Non Public School Education
Since shortly after the Education Act was developed, homeschooling has been low on the Department of Education radar. Over the last 10 months, homeschoolers have noticed a significant rise in interest in registrations, reports and details. Due to the decline of public school registration and subsequent loss of revenue at the local school level, the rise in homeschool registration and the post secondary positive reaction to homeschooling, the Deputy Minister of Education has assembled an awareness committee to consider the phenomenon of homeschooling, monitor it and investigate the interest in alternatives to public education including private and independent schools. This committee is comprised of Department of Education officials and social workers.
The monitoring by this committee is manifesting itself to homeschoolers in the closer attention being paid to registrations and reports. The Director of Regional Education Services has been reviewing homeschool files for the last several months. This scrutiny is part of why more forms are being returned with requests for additional information. The Deputy Minister is looking for increased accountability from homeschoolers. This puts the responsibility on homeschoolers to follow the spirit of the law and avoid any incentive for reevaluation of an Education Act that has worked very well in Nova Scotia for almost 15 years.
What does it all mean?
Ultimately, all of this boils down to the responsibility of parents to know the Education Act and Regulations and how they affect homeschoolers. If homeschoolers follow the spirit of the law, there will be no room for conflict or concern with the Department of Education and the right to homeschool with a high level of independence will be maintained.
The Act and Regulations are published further in this newsletter. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact your support group leader or if you are a member of Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), please contact them as they are able to answer any questions.
HSLDA assists their membership by providing legal counsel and by representing them in dealings with provincial Departments of Education. HSLDA also lobbies in Ottawa and at local levels of government to ensure the rights of homeschool families in Canada. Membership information is available in the HSLDA link below.
For more information…
New contact information for the Department of Education: Dr. Alan Lowe, Senior Executive Director Public School Pearl Livingston, Administrative Assistant Regional Education Services, Department of Education Civic address is: 2021 Brunswick Street, Halifax, NS B3K 2Y5 Mailing address is: PO Box 578, Halifax, NS B3J 2S9 Tel: 424-7616 Fax: 428-3187