The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is considering a new plan that would allow home-schooled students to gain access to school district teachers and classroom instruction.

The proposal is designed for home-schooled students in kindergarten through 12th grade, and for students who have already chosen the home school option.

Called home independent study, the proposal would offer more involvement between the school district and parents to educate students at home.

Students participating in home independent study would be considered district students and would have to live in Santa Monica or Malibu.

The district would provide home independent study at no cost to home-schooled students.

“The program is designed to be a partnership between homes and the school district, a program that is noted for its flexibility,” said Linda Kaminsky, district chief academic officer.

Kaminsky presented the proposal to the district board of education Thursday, March 3rd.

“Students who are being home-schooled under the independent study program have access to the rigorous curriculum and standards we have here in California,” she said.

Currently, home-schooled students rely on their parents and families to develop lesson plans and provide instruction, textbooks and curriculum materials.

Home-schooled students do not participate in the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program — mandated by California for regular public school students — or in public school extracurricular activities.

The home independent study program would mandate that home-schooled students take standardized tests and submit their assignments to a credentialed district teacher for grading.

Parents would also be required to consult with a teacher on a scheduled basis to evaluate student progress.

“This is where the services of a teacher with credentials are highly valued,” Kaminsky said.

“Developing lesson plans can be challenging for families, particularly as students move up in the grades and the subject matters become more complex for the family,” she said.

Under the home independent study program, home-schooled students would also get the chance to participate in public school clubs, field trips, music programs and other activities.

District costs for hiring teachers and providing textbooks and other class materials would be reimbursed by the state.

The district would also get average daily attendance funding from the state because those students would be considered district students.

Home independent study would interest nationally competitive student athletes, student actors, students whose families travel often and chronically ill students, Kaminsky said.

The district currently has a home hospital program in which students temporarily leave school for medical reasons and are expected to return when they get well.

Home independent study is not designed to encourage students to leave public school and be home-schooled.

The new proposal would provide an option for students already familiar with a home school learning environment, said district superintendent John Deasy.

“I don’t envision this as something we market to the population at large as something instead of the educational experience they have now,” said board member Kathy Wisnicki. She said some students previously attended district schools, then left for several grade levels to be home-schooled and returned to high school to graduate.

She said she would like the district to outreach to those types of students.

“Families would choose the independent study option because we can provide teacher support and curriculum support,” Wisnicki said. “It gives us an opportunity to bring some students who left our district for a variety of reasons back into our district.

“We can make sure those students are keeping up with district and state standards.”

Board members would need to discuss the logistics of identifying and contacting potential students, location and staffing, assigning students to a particular school and how grades and transcripts would be handled.

“I am concerned about whether this is a different A, B or C than the grades our students are earning in our schools,” said board member Jose Escarce.

“The same rigor would definitely be there,” Kaminsky said.

“Independent study students and regular students use the same textbooks and have to turn in the same worksheets and assignments,” she said.

District officials have reviewed the home independent study program at the Ventura County Oak Park Unified School District, which has 128 students in its program, Kaminsky said.

Deasy said the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District could implement a home independent study program by fall 2006.

“I’m happy to see some work being done on this type of idea,” Wisnicki said.

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