Homeschool Experience Prevails Over Youth Protection
Mélanie and Dominic homeschool their two young daughters in Québec. Following their decision to do so, they faced a lot of pressure from the school board to reproduce public school at home. This is a typical scenario in their province. Read how HSLDA was able to help them as they dealt with the issue of being reported to Youth Protection Services.
Laval: Hello, Melanie! Can you tell us a bit about your family?
Mélanie: Dominic and I are the happy parents of two beautiful girls, 11 year old Léanne and 9 year old Camille. We are both trained educators and when we learned more about homeschooling, it was obvious that we would pursue this direction. In the beginning, we dreamed of both of us being present to “savour” the moments of our daughters’ early childhood, so we opened a home daycare. Today we still receive young children and their families at our house, offering them a welcoming environment that accommodates their particular needs.
Laval: For how long have you been homeschooling?
Mélanie: Léanne completed second grade and Camille did Kindergarten at school. The following year, the bus passed without our girls getting on—so, since September 2011. We can savour all over again the happiness of seeing them thrive, just as when they were very little.
Laval: I know that you had a difficult time with the school commission and were even reported to youth protection. Could you tell us a little about what happened?
Mélanie: The first year, we sent samples of work–a small portfolio–by mail instead of filling out the documents the school commission sent. We thought their documents were inadequate because they didn’t take into account the reality of homeschooling. We didn’t have any response from this mailing.
We had the conviction to not have our children write the MELS exams. Our school commission demanded these exams at the end of our second year since our girls were at the end of the cycle. Several weeks before the exams, we received a letter notifying us of the time and date for the math, French, and English tests. We repeated our offer to present a portfolio and that they could be assured of our cooperation. The school commission answered that they would be obligated to advise “the competent authorities”. We held fast nonetheless, knowing our rights. We then asked the legal basis of their request, to which we never had a response. All communication took place, of course, by mail.
The following spring, one morning a youth protection officer knocked on our door. Dominic was occupied with the kids, and I was at the grocery store, so the lady left mentioning that she would come back later. At lunch time, she phoned to ask at what time she could come back. I mentioned to her that we were willing to meet her at her office. She accepted without any problem. The day of the appointment we closed our daycare, and our daughters spent an enjoyable day with their grandmother. We wanted them to avoid the stress of all these adult questions. So, we arrived at the youth protection office.
Laval: What was the reason that the school commission reported you to youth protection?
Mélanie: The reason was the non-evaluation of our daughters. We demonstrated through the mail correspondence with our school commission our cooperation and good faith to have our girls evaluated. Before this presentation, they told us that it wasn’t necessarily the school commission who had reported us, which made us doubt for a second, but not for long, especially with the last letter we had received.
We left there not knowing what would happen and what purpose this meeting had served. A few days later, the lady phoned to say that she would like to come observe a session of homeschool in progress at our home. To us, that made no sense. It wasn’t their mandate or their skill to evaluate. We considered this mode of operation as intrusive. After several telephone conversations, we agreed to have our daughters evaluated privately by a special-ed teacher to demonstrate that our girls were receiving an education.
After announcing our willingness to have them evaluated privately, the youth protection officer told us that, after consulting with her superiors, the file would be closed. Even so, we followed through with the special-ed teacher.
Finally, we never had to present the results of the evaluations and they never obliged us to communicate with the school commission or have our girls write the MELS exams. I couldn’t believe it! I was so relieved!
Laval: How was HSLDA a support during this difficult period?
Mélanie: My questions when I first joined HSLDA really prepared me for this situation. I had already visualized this scenario and I was already prepared without knowing it would happen. I had asked Manon all my questions, and voiced my doubt and uncertainty. She really informed me on my rights and the why of the suggested steps in communicating with the school commission. When youth protection knocked on the door, I was happy to already be a member of HSLDA!
All through the ordeal, which lasted two months from the moment when they knocked on our door until they closed the file, HSLDA supported and counseled us. I phoned Manon right away when I came back from the grocery store. The return call came quickly, as always. Manon kept me on the line until she was sure that I was confident with the steps I had to follow. She took the time to listen and let me decompress; I restated my rights and convictions countless times to reinforce my confidence and my approach. I would describe Manon’s support as “coaching”. She made sure I was at ease with the proposed steps and then the choice was up to me. But I was always confident in what she suggested and I had reason to listen to her. Feeling supported, I never hesitated to continue according to my convictions and my rights.
Subsequently, with every call from the DPJ, I contacted Manon before accepting or opposing their requests. I let them know that I was checking with my association. I could then validate my responses to their demands and my intentions with Manon.
Laval: Did all of this change your way of seeing HSLDA, and if so, how and why?
Mélanie: I became a member of HSLDA to be well-counseled and to withdraw my girls from school the right way. I didn’t always understand the way of doing things and I often grilled Manon. Today, I have a view of the whole of the proposed steps and all this makes a lot of sense. I notice at what point everything is coherently put into place to send the message to school commissions to know that homeschooling families act legally and that our demands with regard to evaluations are completely justifiable. They don’t let anything be imposed by accident. I see that HSLDA is a principal actor and leader in the implementation of norms for communication between families and school commissions.
Laval: Now are things better with the school commission? What are you submitting for an end-of-year evaluation?
Mélanie: This year, we sent at the request of the school commission, our education plan with the form supplied by HSLDA. We mentioned that we will have our girls’ portfolios evaluated by a third party. We haven’t received a response to this. We hope that this step will bear fruit since we are again at the end of the cycle.
Laval: What advice would you give to homeschooling families?
Mélanie: We only hope that our account will give courage to families in defending their rights. When we are well-informed, well-supported, and when we give the best to our children, there is nothing to fear. To the contrary, we feel that we have the power to make things advance. Without HSLDA, I don’t think I would have the same feeling.
Laval: What can you take away from this experience?
Mélanie: I had to hold the floor to defend what is so dear to me, to continue to homeschool my daughters without being obligated to prepare for exams. I struggled, but I did it! This experience gave me a great confidence in my abilities. HSLDA gave me the necessary support so that I always stayed in control, and this was gratifying. This demonstrated to the school commissions what homeschooling families in Quebec are capable of when they join together. We are ready to continue in our endeavours. We are stronger because of this experience and it made us see that the school commission does not have as much power over us as we imagine. We also have a part in the power to establish the rules of the game. The school commissions must open up and dialogue.
Laval: It seems that HSLDA has been having more and more success in that this year, in helping families, and in intervening with school matters whenever it proved necessary. Thank you very much, Mélanie, for sharing your journey! Each parent who holds firm is a step ahead for all homeschooling families.