Its been a while but I felt compelled to blog about the piece in Seven Days that came out yesterday regarding the relaxation of homeschooling requirements in Vermont – – ostensibly because the Agency of Education (AOE) doesn’t have the resources to monitor compliance. In my opinion, this reduction of oversight came as a particular shock, as I was directly involved (as a prosecutor) in the case that required the AOE to beef-up its homeschooling requirements in the first place. The case went to the Vermont Supreme Court and the coalition of homeschool parents involved were represented in part by the Home School Legal Defense Association. It’s the only time I can remember in my nearly 27 years of practice that I was heckled in Court by people observing. In this instance most of those observers were from the coalition of “faith-based” (on the right end of the political spectrum) and “alternative-life style” groups (on the left end of the spectrum) that underpinned the homeschool movement at the time. If you’re interested you can read the Court’s decision.
My sense is that in the last several years more and more families have experimented with homeschooling as Vermont’s public school system has become more and more mired in the fall-out from the pandemic and the turn away from hard subject material, to getting intwined (willingly or not) in the culture wars. The school systems nationally are struggling. Recent stories in the New York Times and in the Washington Post underscore this issue. VT Digger’s reporting in 2022 when the pandemic was ending, seems to confirm and support the national narrative.
I’ve been practicing Education Law in Vermont on and off for over 20 years. I used to represent School Districts. Now I am one of the only (and maybe the only) attorneys in the entire state, based in Vermont, who regularly represents parents and students in administrative proceedings against the School Districts. Since this is a pretty niche area of the law, Vermont just doesn’t have the population numbers (or the economics) to support anyone practicing parent/student side Education Law full time (there are however, two law firms – one that I previously worked for, who devote large portions of their practice representing School Districts throughout Vermont). And the School Districts need all the legal help they can get, because deciphering the byzantine labyrinth of State and Federal, laws and rules, is no easy task. But frankly it is a problem that Schools have become so hyper-legalized. I get anywhere from 5-10 calls a week from the Vermont Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service regarding school issues. The most common issues are (in no particular order): bullying and harassment; special education needs (VTDigger recently reported on this glaring special education hole in the educational landscape) I happened to litigate one of the few special education cases where the student prevailed over the school in the last decade; student discipline; student records; school board and public record/open meeting law violations; and cultural differences surrounding race and sexual orientation.
So this may not be news, but I am here to tell you that the public schools are not alright. The nation is becoming more polarized. Some are moving their kids out of the public school systems or home schooling them. Others are keeping their kids in, but supplementing their educations with enrichment or special education opportunities that not everyone can afford. But the upshot is that the more polarized the schools get, the more likely the polarization is going to continue and exacerbate as a nation once the students who are being educated now, reach adulthood.
What can we do as a matter of public policy? Well that is the subject for another blog post. What can you do as a parent with a kid in the system?
- Remain vigilant as to whether the needs of your child(ren) are being met.
- Don’t be afraid to be the “squeaky wheel.”
- Volunteer for your local school board and if you cannot do that, keep in regular, respectful communication with the members of your board.
It may take a Village under normal circumstances, but in this instance it is going to take the full attention and resources of the State if we are ever going to get back on track. And hopefully, some day soon, the sailing will become smoother.