Ah! The joys of French administration.
In this post, I explained the legal requirements of homeschooling in France. After sending a letter of intent to the Mayor’s office in the place of residence, they would then send a delegate every 2 years starting the first year of homeschooling.
If you remember, they are to verify 3 things:
- reasons for homeschooling
- names and ages of children
- activities practiced outside of the home by the children
And they are to visually verify the family’s means to homeschool (designated learning area, books, papers, pens, etc.) These are basically for census purposes.
It is stipulated on the website for the Department of Education in France (found here) that this visit is to be performed by someone in the mayor’s office. It can be performed by other government services but only when exceptionally this cannot be done in a timely manner. This means that caseworkers or any employee from the social services should not be called to perform this duty unless it cannot be done by the mayor’s office. This would happen in such cases where the village is so small, there are no employees other than the Mayor and the secretary/ receptionist. In this case, it is acceptable to call the prefecture which is the main administrative branch of the whole department (think county administration).
I live in Calais. One of the largest cities in the Pas de Calais department in the north of France. We have a population of around 76,000. It is a major hub of trade between England and France and as such has a large Mayor’s office. Despite this, when I received my notification for the enquête du maire (Mayor’s survey), it came from the social services office for the Pas de Calais department.
This, of course, immediately put me on edge. They would be sending me a case worker, someone whose job it was to investigate abuse in the family.
I received the letter at the beginning of the school year for an interview date in early December. That entire month was stressful as I continually questioned why they were sending a caseworker. Was I flagged for some reason? Did someone denounce me and my family? I couldn’t wait for the day to arrive. It was only through a lot of prayer that I was even able to make it with any semblance of calm.
The Day Arrives
The morning of the visit, Greg stayed home to keep an eye on the 3 younger kids. No way was I going to risk a bad review simply because I had a toddler and 2 preschoolers unattended by me during the interview. Or acting out because of the stress of having a stranger in the house. Or just simply acting as littles do. By law, only the child being homeschooled was required to be in attendance with the parent in charge of the instruction.
Our caseworker arrived right on time. I politely invited her into our home and asked her to follow me up the stairs to the first floor where we had created our own schoolroom. I had closed off every door between the entrance and the schoolroom and had made sure that the path upstairs was as clean as possible. First impressions count the most, right?
I introduced V (my oldest) to Mme X (I’ve disguised names to protect the innocent and keep legal issues at bay) and offered her my own comfortable desk chair. I had predominantly placed a printed page of the dos and don’ts of this official visit. When she explained how the visit would be conducted, I quickly referred her to this document to inform her that we would not be passing any limits. I was determined to adhere strictly to the regulations (something I didn’t do for the inspection).
She began by explaining that she was the liaison for the social services department to all homeschooling families in the Calais area. (This has to be a small part of her job as there are only 2 or 3 such families currently active in the area.)
This did not make me feel any more comfortable. I still was unaware of her personal views towards home education. No matter the official policy of government agencies, employees are humans. As such, they have the same prejudices as anyone. Were hers favorable or unfavorable?
The Official Interview
She started by asking the names and ages of all my children. I was leery of giving out this information. But since my own document did not specify whose names and ages I was legally required to divulge, I reluctantly complied. She seemed understanding of my friendly but reserved attitude.
As usual, I had to explain the origins of our kids’ names (mostly English in origin and thus unknown by the majority of the French). I also had to explain my accent. I cannot have a conversation with anyone here without the comment that I must be from England. Nope. American.
Anyway, I explained that we wanted, first and foremost, a bilingual education for our children. I’m kicking myself now for not saying it was for religious reasons. I had been too cowed by my fears of reprisals to stand up for my faith. I will NOT make that mistake again.
It was then that the conversation turned friendly. And she took over.
It Becomes a Chat Session
For the next two hours, Mme X proceeded to gush about how wonderful it was to finally have a visit with a non-dysfunctional family. That she was overjoyed to talk with an intelligent parent. That it was refreshing to see a child obviously loved and taken care of. That we could have made no better choice in her eyes.
She recounted some of the sad tales she dealt with on a regular basis. Of the baby removed recently from a father that she had followed since his infancy. The number of children neglected or mistreated in the city of Calais was overwhelming. And that was her daily job.
For those who don’t know, Calais is one of the poorest cities in the poorest region in all of France. Up to 3 generations of some families have never known work. One-third of all its inhabitants live in government assisted housing.
Obviously, she needed to vent. She seemed burnt out and I was the bright spot in her year. Glad I could help.
Normally these visits are over in less than 1/2 an hour. Some take 5 minutes over the telephone. Mine lasted nearly 3 hours. By the end, I think she was hoping they would change the law to make these visits yearly. As it is, she would have to wait 2 years again to see the ray of sun in her otherwise gloomy existence. Or so I imagined by her manner.
And this is to be the first of many such visits should we continue to homeschool in France. I look forward to the next one a year from now.
Should I have refreshments?