May 1, 2013, homeschoolers had opportunity to meet with Dr. Alan Lowe, Senior Advisor for School Board & Community Relations and the new HRM/Chignecto Regional Education Officer, Denise Bell.
Thirteen homeschool parents were present. Their interests ranged from HEMS, NSHEA, Classical, Unschooling, educating in French, Eclectic homeschooling and Special Needs. Areas represented were HRM, Cape Brenton, North Shore, Eastern Shore, Valley and South Shore. Those present accounted for approximately 1/2 of those who received invitations to the meeting via email from Dr. Lowe’s office. Although specific invitations were sent out, the meeting was open to anyone with a desire to attend.
Initially, the goal of the meeting was to consider how best to move forward with consultation regarding any potential action in response to the Auditor General’s Report of November 2012.
Dr. Lowe welcomed everyone and began the meeting by reaffirming his support of home education in Nova Scotia.
Dr. Lowe informed the gathering that he had been doing much research on homeschool policy from other provinces. Based on what he has learned, he is most inclined toward the
Saskatchewan http://www.education.gov.sk.ca/ISHBE and
Manitoba http://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/schools/ind/home_sch.html models.
Much concern has been raised about the Auditor General’s Report and its potential impact on families’ rights to homeschool in Nova Scotia. Dr. Lowe emphasized three key points with regard to this concern:
- EVERY Education Act in Canada makes law a parent’s right to determine the method of education of their child be it public, private or home school.
- EVERY family has the right to choose the philosophy/methodology/curriculum that best meets the needs of their child.
- EVERY family has the right to determine the best method of evaluation to determine/record/measure/evaluate their child’s progress.
This is the first time these LEGAL RIGHTS have been confirmed and with that confirmation, fear of the AG Report should be overcome. These laws mean that YOU can homeschool, YOU can choose your curriculum (you WILL NOT have to use public school materials – unless you want to) and YOU can decide how to evaluate (your child IS NOT subject to mandatory standardized testing).
Besides these three parental rights, Dr. Lowe identified the right/obligation/interest of the State to ensure that every child is receiving an education and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that gives every child the right to receive an education.
It was pointed out that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child http://www.un.org/cyberschoolbus/treaties/child.asp, clearly states,
“While stressing the country’s duty to help families care for and protect the child, the Convention acknowledges the primary role of family and parents in this task. It calls for positive action by institutions and the State or parents.”
What does all of this mean?
Essentially, homeschoolers in Nova Scotia will be required to register and report progress. Since that was already happening, the issue now becomes how best to achieve that mandate satisfying the Department of Education responsibility to ensure that every child is receiving an education while not infringing on a family’s right to privacy and independence.
Dr. Lowe announced that he planned to host regional meetings throughout the month of June in order to dialogue with homeschoolers about what they would and would not like to see included on these forms. Areas suggested but not confirmed include Antigonish, Greenwood, Halifax, Dartmouth, Bridgewater, Jeddore. If you feel that an area is not represented, please contact the Department of Education http://homeschooling.ednet.ns.ca/contact_info Regional invitations to these meeting will be sent via snail mail in an effort to reach as many homeschooling families as possible.
Some items that will remain the same are name, IU number, address, contact information, age. It was suggested that “grade” may be more flexible with the recognition that many children are working a varying levels depending on the subject matter and that there are homeschool philosophies that do not operate on a graded scale.
The Reporting page was identified as inadequate and confusing and Dr. Lowe is committed to reworking that component. Some parents expressed the opinion that if the material is commercially available (as stated on the registration form) then a simple √ should suffice to indicate completion. Dr. Lowe suggested four boxes (as currently found on the form – new this year) for anecdotal comments on progress or explanations as to why the learning plan was changed. Some parents felt that this was invasive and unnecessary as the Department of Education report cards do not include specific comments and more should not be required of homeschoolers than of public school teachers. When asked about sending in samples of work, Dr. Lowe acknowledged that this really served no purpose and would not be pursued.
It was suggested that some families might want to have an opportunity to request Department of Education assistance at the time of registration. How best to format that has yet to be determined.
Also at these meetings, Dr. Lowe will be asking families about ways they would like to see the Department of Education offer support to homeschoolers across Nova Scotia.
Some of the items raised at this meeting included but were not limited to:
- open communication
- access to special needs services
- possibly creating an advisory/liaison committee with the homeschoolers and the Department
- the best method of sharing plans and outcomes (not necessarily via forms)
- access to library
- access to Department of Education Learning Outcomes (clearly organized an in simple terms)
- upgraded Department of Education website:
- listing of support groups, provincial & local
- agenda for & minutes of consultation meetings
- curriculum websites
- contact information for special services (speech pathology, occupational therapy, etc)
- access to age appropriate immunizations as per publicly schooled children
It was suggested that e-filing might be a preferred method of registering and reporting. Dr. Lowe was receptive to that idea.
What About the Auditor General’s Report?
When questioned on the Auditor General’s statement that the Department of Education had accepted all of his recommendations, Dr. Lowe responded that he had accepted them as recommendations period .
Dr. Lowe shares the AG’s concerns regarding the mechanical aspects of paperwork (upgrading an old computer system with new software). As to the other recommendations, the goal of the upcoming meetings is to help Dr. Lowe determine which, if any, changes should be made and if so, how.
One of the AG’s justifications for his report was that people may register to homeschool and then not provide their children with any form of education. Legally, this is truancy. Across Canada, the Courts have refused to become involved in truancy issues. Trying to dictate how families homeschool has nothing to do with truancy.
What do I have to do to report this year?
The laws have not changed. For this year’s report, you can report as you always have. We do not encourage the submission of samples.
All registered homeschooling families should be receiving hard copy invitations to attend a consultation meeting in their area. Due to population considerations, some families may have to travel to reach their nearest meeting.
The provincial spring conference is scheduled for June 14th & 15th in Lower Sackville. This conference is sponsored by HEMS but is open to everyone. A new line of workshops has been added with the goal of meeting the needs of as many homeschoolers as possible. More information about the conference can be found at hems-ns.ca. Follow the events link, conferences, HEMS Conference & Resource Fair.
Of special note, Merriam Nixon will be presenting a workshop on registering and reporting and Stephanie Jackson & Paul Faris will be updating everyone on the progress of the meetings with the Department of Education and answering questions.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact HEMS or Dr. Lowe or your local support group leader. Our greatest strength lies in working together to support one another and make homeschooling as positive experience as possible.
Thank you for all of your work to date in contacting your MLAs. You are making a difference.