A Brief History of the BCHEA
In November 2010, the BCHLA faced the threat of dissolution without the knowledge of the majority of the stakeholders in BC: home learning families. Quite by accident, past-members of the BCHLA discovered the resolution to dissolve the society a few days prior to the AGM and quickly launched a campaign to save the BCHLA. New and renewed memberships flowed in from all corners of the province, demonstrating overwhelming support. With the stack of membership forms in front of them, the eligible voting members at the AGM realized that BC home learning families were committed to preserving their access to Section 12 of the School Act with the BCHLA as their provincial organization. The majority of those present voted against the resolution to dissolve this Society so it could continue with its mandate to protect and promote our right to home educate our children free of government interference.
What became apparent during those five hectic days before the AGM is that many home learning families in BC were not aware that the BCHLA even existed or why it is important.
Why does the BCHLA exist?
BCHLA’s beginnings go back to 1987 when the Sullivan Royal Commission on Education toured the province, garnering public input in regards to upcoming revisions to the School Act (1989). Many home educating families across BC presented personal briefs publicly to the Commission. Vicki Livingstone, on the advice of a lawyer representing a homeschooling family charged with truancy by the Kelowna school district, brought together interested individuals to create a united provincial organization of home educating families. In 1988, Vicki submitted a brief to the Royal Commission on behalf of the fledgling Canadian Home Educators’ Association of BC (CHEA).
The name of the organization was changed to BC Home Learners’ Association (BCHLA) at the Annual General Meeting of Oct. 6, 1999, to eliminate confusion with several other groups sharing the CHEA acronym, to make clear that this is a Provincial Organization, and to re-focus the emphasis on Learners rather than Educators.
This submission, available for viewing on the BCHLA website, was influential in the creation of Part 2, Division 4, Sections 12 through 14 of the School Act. As a result, home learning families in BC enjoy some of the best home education laws across North America and, indeed, the world. We have the freedom and right to choose to educate our children at home and provide our own educational program, without reference to the BC curriculum and without a duty to report to a school authority.
Who does the BCHLA represent?
The BCHLA was created before the advent of Distributed Learning (DL) programs in this province. Prior to EBUS in 1993, some publicly funded home-based education was available through one of BC’s Distance Education Schools, but because the curriculum was packaged and marked by a teacher, people were not confused over the difference between this and home education (as defined by Section 12 of the School Act).
When the Nechako school district began “electronically” busing students from all across the province in 1993, many registered home schoolers took the opportunity to enroll with EBUS and received access to a computer in their home as well as money for some resources. There was very little oversight offered and families still felt much of the same freedom to do their own thing at home while being enrolled in a school program. More and more school districts saw the financial benefits that Distributed Electronic Learning, as it was then called, would give them and began offering all sorts of things to homeschoolers to get them to enroll in their programs. The Ministry soon stepped in to regulate this form of home learning and the requirements and guidelines have been tightening ever since.
Over the years, DL has grown by leaps and bounds. In 2009-2010, there were 22,481 BC children enrolled, full-time, in a DL program. The Ministry of Education has had to work hard to regulate these publicly funded programs and to bring them into compliance with the School Act.
In 2004, the Ministry of Education chose to use the term homeschooling to refer to children who were registered only under Section 12 of the BC School Act and made it very clear that it did not refer to children who were enrolled in a DL program. In fact, the Ministry went so far as to state that the only difference between children enrolled in the local “brick and mortar” community school and children enrolled in a Distributed Learning school is the location.
To reflect the use of terminology within the Ministry of Education, the 2004 BCHLA Board created a Position Statement that was intended to clarify that the original mandate of the BCHLA held firm: to protect and promote home education freedoms as per Section 12 of the School Act. This did not change who could be a member of the BCHLA or who could vote or who could even sit on the Board of Directors. It did, however, cause some confusion about all of those things and it also neglected to take into account that although home learning families in BC may choose to enroll in a DL program (often “for the money”), that they still want it to be a choice, not a requirement.
Section 12 guarantees that DL remains as one of the options available to home learning families. This is different from the laws of many other Canadian provinces that make enrollment in these sorts of programs mandatory, with ongoing teacher supervision, for home-based learners.
Any persons who wish to preserve their freedom to choose how they educate their children, including opting out of publicly funded and government mandated education, are welcome to be members of the BCHLA, regardless of their current educational choices for their children.
Why is the BCHLA still important?
Over the years, the BCHLA has fostered a positive relationship with the BC government, initially making presentations to both the Government and Opposition caucuses to inform them about home education in BC and, in more recent years, fostering productive communication with the Office of the Inspector of Independent Schools (OIIS) within the Ministry of Education. This positive connection has allowed the BCHLA to stay current with what is happening within the Ministry of Education (relevant to Sections 12, 13, and 14), as well as allowing the OIIS and BCHLA to discuss issues that affect registered home educated children, such as clarifying that children registered under Section 12 are not required to write the FSA, although the registering school must offer them access to the exam. The BCHLA has striven to keep communication precise and non-confrontational, yet has not hesitated to stand boldly for the rights of home educating parents.
Since its inception, BCHLA has also provided a tremendous amount of support to home learning families in BC: encouraging communities to create local support groups in the 1980s and 1990s, providing information about home education options to those seeking it, supporting families dealing with legal issues related to home education (including helping families resolve issues before going to court), providing important and accurate information to the lawyers representing those families, and helping to raise funds to cover legal costs. In fact, it is important that an organization like the BCHLA keep track of court rulings that may affect homeschooling in BC, even in custody cases, so that we are aware of decisions that may impact every parent’s legal right to educate their children at home under Section 12.
The BCHLA has also worked to maintain a positive public image of home education in this province, providing information to the media, school board personnel, and members and employees of the government in a variety of formats, as required.
Most importantly, the non-intrusive educational freedom that is available to each home learning family in BC through Section 12 is due to the past efforts of the BCHLA. The continuation of the BCHLA as a strong provincial organization ensures that home educating families in BC are connected, that they have a united voice, and that someone is paying attention to what is happening in terms of legislation that may affect our homeschooling freedoms in BC.
The BCHLA is the recognized provincial body to represent home education concerns to the government and does this in a manner that does not put any one philosophical, religious, or ethnic slant to the information or concern presented. The government views the BCHLA as a credible organization and the respect the BCHLA gained in the beginning has grown over the years. This high esteem is also reflected back on each home educating family as the government has accepted BCHLA’s positions that each home “school” is unique, that home education is separate from the public system, and that decisions in regards to children’s education are best left to the parent.
What do we need to do now?
All home learning families in BC need to continue to work together to ensure that our freedoms are maintained, uniting over our mutual desire to protect our legal rights. We all need to keep ourselves informed of the issues that will have a direct effect on our capacity to home educate without interference and, when concerns arise, we need to let one another know about them so we can act.
The BCHLA is your organization, your voice, and your opportunity to protect your access to Section 12.
Thank you for joining with us in ensuring that our right to educate our children in the manner we feel is best persists for many years to come.