Homeschooling families in Quebec often say they are treated like criminals, despite the fact that the choice to educate their children at home is a completely legal one. The Quebec Education Act and the ministry of education offer little guidance. The matter has long been left in the hands of school boards, whose staff have a reputation for bias and a history of involving Youth Protection authorities unnecessarily.
Many Quebec homeschoolers have been driven underground over the years, or have moved their families to escape the jurisdiction of a particularly hostile school board.
When the Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport, Quebec’s education ministry, released an updated homeschooling policy earlier this month, homeschooling families hoped for positive change. Instead the new policy confused, angered, and struck fear in most.
Still, there are some positives about the new homeschooling policy. These should be taken into account in any attempts to work towards improved conditions for Quebec homeschoolers.
1) Quebec’s new homeschooling policy reinforces the right for everyone to homeschool in English
Although Bill 101 does not apply to homeschooling, both English and French boards have been known to tell parents otherwise. The new policy clearly states, “children who are ineligible for instruction in English under the Charter of the French language may receive home schooling in English, as these provisions do not apply to them.” (p6)
2) Quebec’s new homeschooling policy recognizes parental role as primary educators
The policy refers (p5) to the primacy of parental authority as stated in the Civil Code of Québec and the Youth Protection Act.” The latter says, “The primary responsibility for the care, maintenance and education of a child and for ensuring his supervision rests with his parents.”
The policy also warns of any bias that might be applied in evaluating the equivalence of a home-based education to that offered in Quebec’s public or private schools. “It is important to note that school boards must respect the charter rights and freedoms guaranteed to all, particularly the right to freedom of conscience and religion, in conducting the evaluation provided for in section 15 (4) of the Education Act.” (p9) This protection was not necessarily afforded to public school students in a recent high school history exam.
3) Quebec’s new homeschooling policy encourages open dialogue and cooperation
Quebec has been recognized as one of the more hostile places to homeschool in Canada. The new policy attempts to encourage a more positive relationship between the homeschooling family and the school board staff: “Under all circumstances, open dialogue is essential to all communications between parents and school board representatives.” (p6) and “Collaboration between the school board and the parents is absolutely essential, especially in the areas of evaluation and teaching methods used.” (p9)
4) Quebec’s new homeschooling policy favours flexibility in student evaluation
Many parents run into trouble with the school board only when it comes time for year-end evaluations. These are often cattle call situations, where all homeschoolers in the board’s jurisdiction are expected to write the same exam regardless of the curriculum families have followed. They are arranged by telephone on short notice, and no guidance is offered on how to prepare children for the testing. Parents who refuse out of fear that their children will be threatened by such harsh testing circumstances, are routinely accused of educational neglect and referred to Youth Protection.
The new policy does little to address the larger problems associated with evaluation, but it does provide some protections for the children who must be evaluated by unfamiliar school board staff. “The evaluation should be conducted by a teacher who works with students of the same age as the student being evaluated. Evaluators should also use a variety of methods (interviews, portfolios, tests, etc.) that are flexible and adapted to home schooling, and always strive to ensure, as far as possible, that the child does not feel threatened by the exercise.” (p9)
5) Quebec’s new homeschooling policy admonishes school boards against abuse of Youth Protection
The new policy admonishes boards to avoid Youth Protection involvement in favour of working with a family to ensure the children are receiving an equivalent education:
“[T]he situation should be brought to the attention of the Direction de la protection de la jeunesse as a last resort, when talks between the school board and the parents have broken down indefinitely.” (p6) While the report doesn’t go far enough to eliminate abuse of the Youth Protection system to police homeschooling families, it does imply that as long as there is a continuing dialogue with the school board and parents are attempting to negotiate terms, a Youth Protection report is inappropriate.
Watch here for an overview of how Quebec’s new homeschool policy falls short of the mark, and for suggestions on how it could be improved.
“Constitution and legal context.” Saskatchewan Ministry of Education
“Education Act. Government of Quebec
“Home Schooling – Policy Framework.” Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport
“Youth Protection Act.” CanLII