(Last Updated November 16, 2016)
Accreditation, Registration, Licensing, and Approval
- Accreditation: no requirements
- Registration: requirements
- Licensing: no requirements
- Approval: mandatory
- Attendance at a private school satisfies the compulsory attendance requirement if the school is approved by the school committee. Massachusetts General Laws (Mass. Gen. Laws) chapter (c.) 76, §1. (The “school committee” in Massachusetts is the local educational agency.)
- School committees will approve a private school when satisfied that its instruction equals the public schools in the same town in thoroughness and efficiency and that private students are making the same progress as public school students. A school committee may not withhold approval based on the school’s religious teaching. Mass. Gen. Laws c. 76, §1.
- No state policy currently exists.
Length of School Year and Days
- Massachusetts’ law does not specify a required length of school year for private schools. However, a memorandum put out by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) suggests a school committee include in the criteria for approval adequate student learning time. Student learning time includes the number of school days, and hours in a school day. Advisory on Approval of Massachusetts Private Schools Pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws c. 76, § 1.
- There is no mandate regarding what courses private schools shall teach. The Department suggests that the “thoroughness and efficiency” criteria can be interpreted to include approval based on the private school’s program of studies and curriculum. Advisory on Approval of Massachusetts Private Schools Pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws c. 76, § 1.
- Massachusetts Art Week is celebrated the last week of May and private schools are encouraged to observe the tradition by the display of works of art and appropriate exhibitions and ceremonies. Mass. Gen. Laws c. 6, §15D.
Recordkeeping and Reports
- The supervisory officers of all private schools must report the name, age and residence of any child enrolled in the school to the superintendent of schools in the town where the children reside within 30 days of enrollment. If a child withdraws from the school, the officers must notify the superintendent within 10 days. Mass. Gen. Laws c. 72, §2.
- The local superintendent of schools files an annual report with the commissioner of education on or before May 1st on the number of pupils enrolled in nonpublic schools within the district. The information is collected during the months of January and February. Mass. Gen. Laws c. 72, §2A.
- Private school administrators and teachers are required to provide information or reports requested by any justice relating to the attendance, conduct, and standing of any pupil enrolled, if the pupil is awaiting court examination or trial or is at that time under the supervision of the court. Mass. Gen. Laws c. 119, §69.
- Persons operating an education institution have an obligation to provide a student with his or her written transcript upon the student’s request. The first copy must be provided free. Schools may charge a fee for duplicates not exceeding $1 for each page, but not exceeding $5 for an entire transcript. Anyone denied a transcript may petition the courts for relief. Mass. Gen. Laws c. 71, §§34A and 34B.
- If a private school closes, the owner must transfer all current and former students’ transcripts to the Department or to the school to which a current student has transferred. Mass. Gen. Laws c. 71, §34G.
Health and Safety Requirements
- The principal or chief administrator of a private school must obtain at least every three years all available criminal offender record information from the department of criminal justice information services for any current or prospective employee or volunteer at the school “who may have direct and unmonitored contact with children, including any individual who regularly provides school related transportation to children.” The principal or chief administrator of a private school must also obtain a state and national fingerprint-based check for all current and prospective school employees “who may have direct and unmonitored contract with children.” Whether to require fingerprint-based check for volunteers is left to the discretion of each school. Mass. Gen. Laws c. 71, §38R.
- The fingerprint-based background check requirements for public and private schools are spelled out in the regulations of the Department at 603 Code of Massachusetts Regulations (CMR) 51.00.
- Private school teachers who have reasonable cause to believe a child under 18 is suffering physical or emotional injury resulting from abuse or neglect are under an obligation to immediately report the condition either to the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families or to the school administrator, who is then responsible for notifying the Department of Children and Families. Mass. Gen. Laws c. 119; §§21 and 51A.
- Persons apprehended for manufacturing or distributing controlled substances within 300 feet of a private elementary, vocational, or secondary school will receive a mandatory sentence of not less than two years. Mass. Gen. Laws c. 94C, §32J.
- Each institution of secondary education must file at least annually a report with the board of education certifying that the school has informed its students of the hazing prohibition and adopted and disseminated a disciplinary policy on the organizers and participants of hazing. Mass. Gen. Laws c. 269, §19.
- Fires or explosions resulting in a loss of life must be reported in writing within 48 hours, excluding Sundays and holidays, to the fire marshal. Reports must be on forms furnished by the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services, and contain a statement of all known facts relating to the cause and origin of the fire or explosion, the extent of the damage, the insurance upon the damaged property, and other information as required. The fire marshal shall keep or cause to be kept a record of all fires or explosions occurring in the state, and ensure that the results of such investigations and records are open to public inspection. Mass. Gen. Laws c. 148, §2.
- Private schools are subject to the Massachusetts Pesticide Control Act. Mass. Gen. Laws c. 132B; §§1 and 2.
- Students who attend approved private schools are entitled to the same rights and privileges to transportation to and from school as are provided by law for public school students, within specified limits. Mass. Gen. Laws c. 76, §1.
- Street or elevated railway companies must provide special rates for public and private school students during the days or evenings when school is in session not to exceed one-half of the regular fare. Mass. Gen. Laws c. 161, §108.
- The use of state or local funds to pay for textbook loans to pupils of private schools violates the state constitution. Bloom v. School Committee of Springfield, 379 N.E.2d 578 (1978).
- The Department suggests that the “thoroughness and efficiency” criteria can be interpreted to include approval based on the private school’s textbooks and materials. Advisory on Approval of Massachusetts Private Schools Pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws c. 76, § 1.
- The Department suggests that the “thoroughness and efficiency” criteria can be interpreted to include approval based on the private school’s student performance assessment procedures. Advisory on Approval of Massachusetts Private Schools Pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws c. 76, § 1.
- If appropriate, publicly funded eligible students with disabilities requiring special education may be placed in a public or approved private special education program in accordance with 603 CMR 28.09 (1). Mass. Gen. Laws c. 71B, §10.
- School committees may authorize the prepayment of tuition of a publicly place student with disabilities, for a period not exceeding three months, to any approved private school. Mass. Gen. Laws c. 71, §71D.
- Eligible students with disabilities who attend private school at private expense are entitled to special education designed to meet their needs. The school district where the student with disabilities is a resident must provide genuine opportunities to participate in the public school special education program consistent with the state constitutional limitations. Eligible students are entitled to an individualized education program (IEP). Services provided or arranged for by the district pursuant to an IEP, if paid for with state or local funds, must be provided in a public facility or other public or neutral site. If services are funded only with federal monies, they may be provided on private school grounds. Administrative Advisory SPED 2007-2: IDEA-2004 and Private School Students (Updated July 2008).
Nursing and Health
- Pupils attending private schools may receive screening for sight, hearing, and other physical defects through the local school committee or board of health at the request of a parent/guardian, providing the private school is approved and does not discriminate in its entrance requirements on the basis of race or color. Mass. Gen. Laws c. 71, §57.
- Private schools are eligible to receive grants from the Massachusetts Science, Technology Engineering, and Mathematics Grant Fund with the purpose of increasing the number of qualified science, technology, engineering and mathematics teachers and improving the course offerings in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Mass. Gen. Laws c. 29, §2MMM.
- By statute, one of the 14-member Massachusetts Educational Communications Commission must be a representative of private elementary and secondary education. Mass. Gen. Laws c. 6, §158.
Reimbursement for Performing State and Local Functions
- No state policy currently exists.
- Private school property is exempt from property taxation as a “literary, benevolent, charitable and scientific institution.” Mass. Gen. Laws c. 59, §5. Board of Assessors v. Garland School of Home Making, 6 N.E.2d 374 (1937).
Public Aid for Private Education
- Constitutional Provisions: The Massachusetts Constitution provides that no appropriation of public money may be made to aid a primary or secondary school that is not publicly owned and under the exclusive control of public officers authorized by the Commonwealth. Mass. Const. Ann. Amend. Art. 18 §2.
- Programs for financial assistance for attendance at private schools: No such programs currently exist.
Initial and Renewal Applications
- In Care and Protection of Charles, 399 Mass. 324 (1987), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court concluded that the approval process under Mass. Gen. Laws c. 76, § 1 was constitutionally permissible. The court set forth guidelines for parents and school officials in considering home school proposals. However, the Supreme Judicial Court held in Brunelle v. Lynn Public Schools 428 Mass 512 (1998) that home visits by public school officials may not be required as a condition of approval of a home education plan.
- A student may not begin a home school program until the home school program is approved by the school district in which the student resides. “Prior approval of the superintendent or [school] committee is a prerequisite to the removal of children from school and to the commencement of a homeschooling program.” Care and Protection of Ivan, 48 Mass. App. Ct. 87. 89 (1999).
Curriculum and Instruction
- Home education programs are subject to the same standard of approval as private schools. The instruction in all studies required by law must equal in thoroughness, efficiency, and progress of the child, that in the public schools of the same town. Mass. Gen. Laws c. 76, §1.
- In Care and Protection of Charles, 399 Mass. 324 (1987) the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court set forth the following guidelines for parents and school officials in considering home school proposals: (1) curriculum, number of hours of instruction for each proposed course and length of the proposed school year; (2) the competency of the parent (teacher certification and advanced degrees are not required); and (3) textbooks, instructional aids and lesson plans.
Assessment and Diplomas
- In Care and Protection of Charles, 399 Mass. 324 (1987), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court included in the guidelines for parents and school officials in considering home school proposals that the superintendent or school committee may require periodic standardized testing or other evaluations of the student’s educational progress.
Public School Access
- A home school student is eligible to participate in interscholastic athletics run by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) when (1) the local school committee has a policy allowing home educated student participation and has all home- educated students in its boundaries listed on the MIAA enrollment form; (2) the student’s home education plan is approved; (3) the public school principal places the home-educated child in a grade from nine to 12, based on age and education plan; and (4) the principal determines the student meets the eligibility standards required for all other students and certifies the eligibility at the same time as all others. MIAA’s Rules and Regulations Governing Athletics.