Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Speaking to Local Public Schools--part 1, Albemarle

Recently Will Shaw, of The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, and I visited each of the homeschool liaisons for Charlottesville City Public Schools and Albemarle County Public Schools. The purpose of the visits was twofold. Will was there as a representative of the statewide organization, offering any assistance if/when it was needed in handling any homeschooling issues the schools may have; and I was there to see if there were any current issues and to bring up questions I and members of my local homeschool group had, especially given the new changes to the home instruction statute.

After each meeting, I sent a report back to my local homeschool list of what was said.

This is what I wrote after visiting Albemarle:

Will Shaw (VaHomeschoolers board member, and member of this list) and I met with Sue Sheffield of the Albemarle County Public Schools on Friday. Will’s role was as a VaHomeschoolers Board Member, mine was more as a local homeschooler who can communicate with the local homeschoolers. I got to be the “less reasonable” person, or more contrary. :) Kind of “good homeschooler, bad homeschooler.” LOL

We asked if she had any current problems or issues in dealing with us homeschoolers, and she has none at the moment. Her only request is that families meet the deadlines for sending evidence of progress and the notice of intent. This is a small part of her job and she tries to get it done quickly and on time, and when people file late, that just causes more trouble for her. I can appreciate that she wants to get her end of this done quickly, and the law gives the deadlines, so this is not an unreasonable request. :)

She did say that if you plan to move from the county, please do notify her so she knows she can put your file away and not worry about not receiving the new year’s NOI or test results.

As far as a curriculum description, she suggested that if parents aren’t sure what to write, we could tell her what our goals might be for the end of the year for our children, basically. She won’t accept the unschool-y “the world is our classroom” or “flowery” (as she put it) “we learn wherever we are, whatever we’re doing” kind of descriptions that I and some others have been known to use. :) She said that’s a description of the method, not the actual program of study. I disagree, but she’s got a school mindset and I can’t change that.

As for evidence of progress, the law has changed some, [(b) a report card or transcript from a community college or college, college distance learning program, or home-education correspondence school.] so I brought up PVCC. I wondered if she would accept a PVCC course final grade for proof of progress, even if the course(s) were not English or math (which is really what she’s looking for). She pointed out that since she knows hs students have to pass the COMPASS test to take a course at Piedmont, which covers English and math skills, then it wouldn’t matter what class the child took. She would know they’d passed the test, and then also would see the grade for whatever course they’d enrolled in. I think this is great! It makes sense and I wouldn’t have thought of it, but she has no problem with accepting PVCC grades. You won’t need to test your child with the CAT or do an evaluation, etc.

As for portfolios, they have decided not to accept them because they do take a lot of time, and they can sometimes be difficult to interpret. They prefer an evaluation of a portfolio (which is what VaHomeschoolers recommends doing), or just an evaluation. However, there are families that send in portfolios, and for children with special needs, she knows that this is the best way to determine progress. It is helpful to her if the parent writes notes about the year’s work, as well. If you have concerns, give Sue a call. But most people use a test, so this shouldn’t affect the majority of us.

Another thing she brought up was that some parents, when pulling their child out of school, are mad at the school and transfer that anger over into the NOI filing, and that doesn’t help anything. She wants folks to “be civil and not get defensive.” By the time most parents find this list however, you’re already past the point of filing. I hope she’ll refer people to our list if she knows they plan to homeschool. :)

Also, there is, as always, a discrepancy between the home instruction statute and the compulsory attendance statute, which can cause problems when pulling a child out of school. The law tells us to notify “as soon as practicable,” but the schools must count a child as absent, and then truant, if they don’t know where they are or what is going on. Verbally telling the teacher, guidance counselor or principal does not count. She did say that she is quick to communicate to the child’s former school that they are homeschooling. (I had said that I recommended to people that they send the notice to her, and a copy to the school, so they’ll know what’s going on. But until the school gets word from her, they still count the child truant.)

For this reason, Sue tried to push the idea of sending in the NOI before removing the child from school. I can see her side of things. However, the law gives us the right to do the reverse. And certainly if you are concerned for your child’s well-being, pull them out right away.

While this is legal, we also have the practical side of the truancy issue to deal with. Once a child is considered truant for, I believe, 10 school days, [ok, I've Googled this and searched the ACPS school board manual and cannot find the actual procedure on this, or what constitutes truant, etc, other than one for a particular school, which makes it look like it's actually just 8 unexcused absences, not 10] the school is required to start with truancy charges, which I think is a misdemeanor [yup, I was right on that one]. That only causes more problems for everyone. So it is a good idea to file at least the notice as soon as you can. I would not wait more than a week. It doesn’t take much to print the form and send it in. You still have up to 30 days to send in a curriculum description and a copy of your diploma, or whatever else is needed for the option you are filing under. I also think that Ms Sheffield is going to be reasonable if you need more time, as long as you communicate with her in writing and explain what your situation is.

As always, I am happy to help if there are problems that come up. I’m not sure how many on this list are not yet homeschooling, but please keep this in mind, and if you have a friend considering homeschooling, you can give them my email address if they have questions or problems.

There might have been more to report, but those are all the notes I took.

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