A History Of Homeschooling In Maine
“Your deceptions have only served as platforms for My mercy. You are still my servant, Satan. When will you learn? Your feeble attempts to disturb My work only enable My work. Every act you have intended for evil, I have used for good.”
from An Angel’s Story by Max Lucado
from An Angel’s Story by Max Lucado
From Ed Green, HOME President:
In the battle between good and evil, God always wins. As Christians, God’s hand is upon us even in the midst of persecution. What comfort. What security. What love! When dark clouds are looming, He is still there. Many times He allows the persecution and the suffering in order to bring about a greater good. Only when looking back over the years, is it easy to see God’s providence. Only then is His plan clearly visible to us.
In the early days of homeschooling in Maine, fear and anxiety were prevalent. School officials were overbearing, and often denied homeschool applications. Families faced charges of truancy and neglect. At one time there were a number of “safe houses” where children could be placed until an apparent danger had passed. Those days called for courage and steadfastness, despite fear.
These courageous families sacrificed much and paved the way for future homeschool freedoms. God led them to battle, and their obedience brought victory after victory. Those of us who are homeschooling today are indebted to these early pioneers for the safety, peace of mind and confidence we now enjoy and take for granted.
However, scripture does remind us that the fight between darkness and light will continue through time. While we certainly feel more secure in our freedom to homeschool in Maine, we are never completely exempt from possible charges of truancy and neglect, repeated attempts to over regulate, encroachment from the public charter school movement and efforts to control homeschoolers from a variety of seemingly innocent sources. Those who wish to control homeschooling and parental rights will always be with us. We must not be lulled to sleep by a sense of security. Instead, we must continually ask thoughtful questions, such as:
- "Does this legislation or regulation strengthen or take away my right to homeschool, freely?
- Would this organization, individual, or invitation to participate in a enticing program control my freedom to homeschool, or enhance my ability to homeschool, freely?"
“Our fight is not against people on earth but against the rulers and authorities and the power’s of the world’s darkness, against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly world.” (Ephesians, 6:12)
A History of Homeschooling in Maine:
Homeschooling has been around since the beginning of time. During the early part of our nation’s history, homeschooling was the leading form of education. The 1970’s brought renewed interest in homeschooling throughout the nation for many reasons. Some parents were beginning to feel that traditional schools could no longer meet the academic, social, moral and/or spiritual needs of their children. It was a rare state where a law or court ruling explicitly permitted homeschooling. Most people considered homeschooling to be illegal. Those who chose to homeschool either did so by remaining “underground” (not seeking permission from local school officials or the State) or by asking permission from their local school board. Either approach involved risks.
In the late 1970’s, several Maine families in the Bath area wanted to homeschool their children, and approached their local school board. The school board was reluctant to make a decision on whether or not to allow the families to homeschool. Ultimately, the families suggested to the State that guidelines be developed, because of the trouble they were having with their local school board. In 1981, the State did develop fairly loose guidelines that required local school districts to adopt their own guidelines and policies for granting approval to any families in Maine interested in homeschooling. School boards could basically develop whatever guidelines they wanted. Inconsistencies from one district to the next abounded, and many families suffered.
Though unconstitutional, granting approval to homeschoolers would become the practice for many states in the years ahead. In Maine, the local school board granted approval at school board meetings. Homeschooling families were called upon to defend themselves at these meetings, which were open to the public and to the press. Details would appear in local newspapers the next day. Many times approval was denied. This highly public and often humiliating process was the practice for many years.
During the 1970's and early 1980's, Christian Liberty Academy of Illinois and Calvert School of Maryland were helpful in providing materials to educate children at home and abroad. Since school curriculum companies, including Abeka and Bob Jones, did not sell to individual families, homeschoolers had little available for materials. Materials were not being written for and marketed to the homeschooling community. Undeterred by lack of curriculum options, Maine’s resourceful homeschoolers created their own materials and programs; found materials at yard sales, book sales, private school closings, and local libraries; and shared their resources with other homeschoolers that they knew.
Other families began to ask these pioneering families for information on how they could get started in homeschooling. Small groups of homeschoolers began to get together, regularly, so that “veterans” could share information, resources and support with newcomers. Support groups began popping up here and there throughout the state. Homeschoolers that were involved in support groups soon realized that they had each chosen homeschooling for a variety of very different reasons. These early groups were often a mix of Christian and secular families with differing philosophies and religious views. They met together for the sole purpose of supporting each other in their efforts to homeschool under unfavorable and sometimes even hostile conditions. In some cases, the Maine Department of Human Services (DHS) responded to misguided reports of "child abuse" attributed to homeschoolers. These families were blazing the trail, and preferred to stick together for fear of hanging separately.
In 1982, the Maine State Department of Education began to take note of the small, private church schools meeting throughout the state, as well. The Department decided that these schools also needed to be regulated, and ought to seek the approval of the State. They wanted each school to have an approved curriculum and certified teachers. Since the private schools did not agree with the State, the Bangor Baptist Church v. Maine court case ensued. In the end, the court decided that the State did not have the authority to penalize private schools that did not seek state approval. The court also told the State to develop a set of voluntary guidelines that these private schools could operate under that would satisfy the compulsory attendance law.
These non-approved private school guidelines also met the needs of some groups of homeschoolers who wished to form home-based non-approved private schools for the purpose of satisfying the compulsory attendance law. Homeschoolers began using this option at that time, and have been using the option ever since. Homeschoolers that choose to organize non-approved private schools must enroll at least two or more unrelated students. Each classroom operates in individual homes with the parent as the teacher.
The earliest homeschool conference in Maine took place in July of 1983 in the Sebago Lakes area, and John Holt was the featured national speaker. John Holt (1923-1985) was the author of ten books about education, including the classic of the 1960's school reform movement, How Children Fail. He founded Growing Without Schooling magazine, possibly the first periodical about homeschooling, in 1977 as a way to support homeschooling families and to provide a forum for them to communicate with one another. A group of interested individuals organized the event, and the attendees, like those in the early support groups, included a wide range of people homeschooling for many different reasons.
In 1984, four public school superintendents came forward to insist that the Department of Education write a uniform set of homeschool guidelines for the entire state. During the process of writing these rules, the Department did not ask any homeschoolers for input, nor did they send any of the families of the more than 60 homeschooled children that were registered at the time a notice of the changes and the hearing on the rules. This was also at the insistence of the four superintendents. However, the Department did send an announcement of the hearing, and a copy of the proposed rules, to all the public school superintendents in the state.
A copy of the proposed rules got into the hands of members of the homeschooling community. Word spread fast, and people began to plan on attending the hearing. On a very hot day in June, more than 300 angry homeschoolers showed up to oppose the proposed rules. Only one, lone superintendent spoke in favor of them. Guardians of Education for Maine (GEM) had arranged to have the hearing videotaped. Also, the generosity of some GEM supporters made it possible for them to bring Dr. Raymond Moore from Washington state, a recognized authority on home education, to speak at the hearing. However, the number and quality of speakers from among homeschooling parents and the quiet behavior of the homeschooled children present outshone the "expert testimony" presented that day. The press, having been alerted, was there and reported the hearing on the front pages of the Maine dailies the next day, as well as on the evening television news.
The Department realized it had a public relations disaster on its hands, so their school approval consultant appointed four homeschool advocates to be on a committee to straighten out the proposed rules. Typically, they did not ask the homeschooling community to select their own representatives. The four appointees had never met each other before. They were: the owner of a Christian radio station, a Church of the Brethren pastor, an unschooling dad, and a public school teacher who had been working directly with homeschoolers for a number of years. The public school teacher was Kathi Kearney. Kathi has continued to serve the homeschooling community through the years, and currently serves on the Homeschoolers of Maine Board. The committee met all summer. Every concept, every requirement, and every word in the original draft was negotiated. Ultimately, these became the "Chapter 130" homeschooling rules. The result was not ideal, but may have been the best that could be achieved under the circumstances. By 1985, the rules had been promulgated, and homeschoolers were trying to comply as best they could. Approval of applications remained a function of the local school district.
In 1987, a statewide organization formed for the first time to begin meeting the needs of the homeschooling community on a larger scale, and to monitor the challenges that homeschoolers were facing throughout the state. They published a regular newsletter and sponsored some of the first few homeschool conferences. Christopher Klicka from Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which had been founded only four years earlier, was the first national speaker to come to Maine to share a vision for homeschooling from a biblical perspective at a conference specifically for homeschoolers. The organization continued to function in a loosely organized fashion, and attempted to serve the entire homeschooling community with its varying perspectives for about four years.
Also in 1987, the Blount family having been harassed by local and state officials, and believing that a homeschooling family ought to be able to file a notice as a non-approved private school, sued the Maine Department of Education. The Blounts held deep convictions concerning religious liberty, and believed that seeking approval from the State violated their religious beliefs. The State disagreed. At one time they were in two different courts, ending up before the Maine State Supreme Court. Three expert witnesses, including Raymond Moore, testified on behalf of the Blounts. The Blounts lost the case, but essentially won the war since the case proved that “the availability of the procedure set forth in the Guidelines for those schools whose enrollment draws from more than one family represents the maximum accommodation it can make to conscientious objection to state regulation.” (Klicka, Maine Home-Based Non-Approved Private Schools). The non-approved private school option had gained strength because of the sacrifice and courage of one family.
By this time, homeschooling was gaining momentum on a national scale. Legal challenges were being shouldered by HSLDA, whose mission was to make home education legal for every family in every state. In 1988, Maine’s Governor, John McKernan, recognized that homeschooling was here to stay. Written by Mrs. Bettina Dobbs, founder and president of Guardians of Education for Maine (GEM), the Governor granted the first ever Home Education Week Proclamation in the United States to Maine’s homeschool families. This proclamation has been re-issued each year for the first full week in May by each of Maine’s succeeding governors.
The years after the 1984 hearing and the development of Chapter 130 rules were challenging ones for homeschoolers in Maine. Many school officials and school board members were opposed to homeschooling, and continued to put up challenging roadblocks for families, despite the new rules. Maine’s approval status had left homeschoolers vulnerable to the arbitrary discretion of public school officials. As a result, homeschoolers received unequal treatment from one district to the next. The policies adopted by local school districts were often more stringent than the State’s guidelines. There were many denials and appeals. After years of harassment, homeschoolers finally came together to ask the Maine Legislature to correct this unfair situation. In 1989, the authority to approve a homeschool application was taken out of the hands of the local district, and placed in the hands of the State Department of Education.
In the early 1990’s, it was becoming more and more clear that Christian homeschoolers needed statewide support from an organization that was distinctively Christian, and whose mission would be to bring information and services to the Christian homeschool family. In 1991, Ed and Kathy Green founded Homeschoolers of Maine (HOME). The organization has grown dramatically over the past decade, and has served thousands of families throughout the state of Maine. The organization has sponsored thirteen conventions that have featured top-notch personalities from the national homeschooling community. Vendors come from all across the country to exhibit the wide variety of curriculum and resources now available to homeschooling families. In addition, HOME publishes a quarterly newsletter, bi-weekly e-mail updates, and maintains a website. Although HOME has remained a non-profit organization, full time volunteers work consistently to meet the needs of homeschoolers on a daily basis.
In March of 1991, hundreds of homeschoolers were forced to pack the Statehouse in Augusta once again. A bill had been introduced to the legislature that would have required homeschoolers in Maine to submit to monthly home visits by school officials. These visits would have given the state the authority to “determine whether the equivalent instruction program should be continued, altered or terminated.” HOME sent mailings out urging homeschoolers to write letters of opposition and attend the hearing in March. Chris Klicka from HSLDA testified before the Education Committee, as well as many homeschoolers. Mr. Klicka documented how, “home visits violate the parents’ right to privacy, their right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, their due process rights, and the Establishment Clause of the Bill of Rights.” The bill was soundly defeated.
In 1992, HOME, along with other homeschoolers in Maine, worked to convince the Department of Education to amend the labor intensive, eight-page homeschool application. Chris Klicka sent a proposal to the Department urging them to simplify the process, and adopt a “notice of intent” process instead. The Department did not change the approval status to one of notice of intent, but did agree to provide some relief by releasing a shorter four-page application.
By 1993, it appeared that homechoolers were not being treated equally throughout the state in terms of access to public school facilities. One legislator brought this to the attention of the legislature, and a task force was appointed to study access by homeschoolers to the public schools. Maine homeschool organizations did not initiate this study, and many homeschoolers did not support the idea. However, a law was passed during the 1995 legislative session to require that public schools permit participation in curricular, co curricular and extracurricular activities for students enrolled in approved equivalent instruction programs.
One Maine reporter, desperate for a story, questioned the legitimacy of home-based non-approved private schools in the summer of 1993. A local midcoast newspaper carried his story which called non-approved private schools “phantom schools” since they had no school buildings. The reporter contacted the Department of Education, and the Department felt obligated to investigate to see what all the fuss was about. Surveys went out from the Department to individual NAPS administrators, who then contacted HOME for help. On behalf of the NAPS administrators, Ed Green from HOME and Chris Klicka from HSLDA held a conference call with the commissioner and the attorney general, and compiled a packet of information to address the State’s questions. Dr. Brian Ray from the National Home Education Research Institute did a brief statistical analysis of academic achievement test data from students in Maine’s home-based non-approved private schools. This study was given to the State, as well. The State was satisfied, and home-based non-approved private schools continued to flourish in Maine.
The battle of H. R. 6 drew Maine’s homeschoolers into a nationwide effort to protect thousands upon thousands of families. House Resolution 6 of 1994 was a federal reappropriations bill for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Some small, last minute wording changes altered the bill dramatically, and would have required all homeschoolers to be certified teachers. Representative Dick Armey (R-TX) offered an amendment to protect homeschoolers that was initially rejected, and a battle began. HOME alerted Maine homeschoolers via phone trees and fax lines. Maine’s homeschoolers joined others across the nation to do their part to let Congress know that they supported the Armey amendment. The amount of calls from homeschoolers literally shut down Congressional switchboards. On February 24, Maine homeschoolers gathered to watch the debate on C-span, and waited eagerly for the vote. Efforts paid off, and homeschoolers won a stunning 374-53 victory that day.
During the 1990’s, the Maine Department of Education began to articulate a common vision for education in Maine by defining the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that all students should possess upon graduation from high school. In 1993, a Task Force on Learning Results was formed and directed to:
Develop long-range education goals and standards for school performance and student performance to improve learning results and recommend to the commissioner and to the Legislature a plan for achieving those goals and standards.
During the 1996 Legislative Session, Homeschoolers of Maine discovered that Learning Results would also apply to homeschoolers and private schools. Homeschoolers would lose freedoms if bound by the standards put forth through Learning Results. The Guardians of Education for Maine, the Christian Civic League and the Christian Coalition of Maine all joined HOME in an effort to secure an exemption for homeschoolers and non-approved private schools. Hundreds of homeschoolers attended the hearing. Efforts provided a temporary exclusion. HOME has continued to monitor any legislative efforts that may draw homeschoolers back into Learning Results in the future.
Homeschooling continued to grow in Maine, and by 2001 well over 4,000 children were registered with the State through Chapter 130 alone. During that Legislative Session, Senator Peter Mills of Somerset County introduced LD 405, a bill that would have required homeschoolers to take the Maine Educational Assessment Test. The test is based on the Maine Learning Results. Also, the bill would have allowed public schools to receive 1/4 of the per-pupil subsidy payment for every homeschooler, regardless of whether or not any services were provided. The money was to go to the school districts, not the homeschooling families. The homeschoolers would have become cash cows for the public school. Repeated attempts were made by HOME and HSLDA to convince Senator Mills to withdraw his bill. All attempts failed, even though Senator Mills had no other sponsors for the bill. Approximately, 1000 homeschoolers attended the hearing. Many spoke out against the bill, including some children. HSLDA attorney, Scott Woodruff testified calmly, but firmly and earned the title, “The Man from Virginia” from the Education Committee. Victory prevailed again, and the bill was defeated.
The past twenty-five years have certainly brought more freedoms to homeschoolers in our state. We have had many victories. Our brief, but eventful Maine homeschooling history clearly shows that maintaining homeschool freedoms takes hard work, diligence, and an active and ever watchful presence in Augusta. In addition, for every issue that we have needed to address head on, there are many others that have been resolved through successful negotiations. For all of these victories, large and small, we can praise God.
In 2003, changes in Chapter 130 Guidelines and the application process brought us more work to do to be certain that freedoms were not lost. At that time. Maine was one of only four approval states left. Change was needed. However, prayer and hard work by Maine homeschoolers provided benefit and relief to all, regardless of whether one had filed an application to homeschool or joined a NAPS group. The situation required homeschooling families to consider their fellow homeschoolers and the future of home education in Maine. The entire homeschool community was called upon to make improvements that would preserve, protect and promote freedom for all Maine families who would choose homeschooling both then and in the future.
In May of 2003, Governor John Baldacci signed into law a complete overhaul of Maine's former homeschool law. Since that time, our law has provided great relief to thousands of homeschoolers throughout Maine.
We must continue to remember our past. Freedom is not free. Eternal vigilance truly is the price of liberty.