Many of you have friends or relatives that homeschool, and are perhaps considering it for your own family. Allow me to assist you while I unpack some of the most common questions I am asked:
1) What exactly is homeschooling?
Home education, as defined by Florida law, is “sequentially progressive instruction of a student directed by his or her parent or guardian in order to satisfy the requirements of Statute 1003.21 and 1002.41.” The law is broad, giving parents quite a bit of freedom to direct their child’s education. Children of all ages are home educated across the state, and many are entering college straight from their courses of study at home.
2) How do I legally homeschool in Florida?
Home education is one of five ways to satisfy Florida’s compulsory attendance law. Statute 1003.01 (13) gives parents the choice of achieving regular school attendance through one of these provisions:
• Public school
• Parochial, religious or denominational school
• Nontraditional private school
• Home-education program
• Private tutoring program
Four of these options are in the private sector — ultimately, parents choose the setting, curriculum, opportunities and educational experiences. In all cases, a child turning 6 before February 1 of the school year is subject to compulsory attendance and must attend school regularly the entire term.
3) Is kindergarten mandatory?
Kindergarten is mandatory only if you will be enrolling your child in a public school for first grade. Placement is determined by the principal, and even if you have documented kindergarten and turned in an evaluation, the principal still can decide to have your child repeat kindergarten. Unless a parent is absolutely sure the child will be home educated in first grade, the safest route is to register your child with the county for kindergarten. You would then be required by law to turn in an evaluation for that year.
Some school districts will not allow a child to be registered for kindergarten for home education. Check with your school district regarding what process might be used if the child was not home educated for kindergarten and was to be enrolled in a public school for first grade. The school, for example, might assess the child after a month or two and move the child into first grade.
If a child is registered for kindergarten, the school would require proof that your child has satisfactorily completed a kindergarten program, so an evaluation would need to be submitted to the school district. Some private schools may also require this. Entry into any grade beyond first will not require proof of kindergarten but may require demonstration of minimum skills for the grade entered.
4) Must I be a certified teacher to teach my child?
The parent is not required to be a certified teacher or have any educational qualifications. As the parent, you are the primary instructor for, and supervisor of, your child’s education. Supplementary instruction through other activities is permissible and encouraged, including extracurricular athletic or music activities, Florida Virtual School, part-time enrollment at a public or private school, or dual enrollment in a college or university.
5) Can I homeschool other children?
People often ask if it is legal to teach other people’s children. If someone else becomes a child’s primary instructor and directs the child’s education whether in the home or not, and if the instruction takes place daily and consistently, then the instructor must hold a valid Florida teaching certificate in the subjects and grades being taught. Legally, this type of teaching falls under private tutoring. However, this does not preclude someone with primary responsibility for the child from home-educating the child. The definition of “parent” in Statute 1000.21(5) “is either or both parents of a student, any guardian of a student, or any person in a parental relationship to a student, or any person exercising supervisory authority over a student in place of the parent.”
6) As a parent, what are my primarily responsibilities according to homeschool law?
There are six responsibilities:
1. Submitting your notice of intent.
Your written notice of intent must include each of the following:
• Name of each child (age 6-16)
• Birthdate of each child named
• A parent’s signature
The notice must be filed in your district school superintendent’s office within 30 days of beginning your home-education program. It is wise to do this immediately after establishing your program, especially if you are withdrawing your child from a public or private school, to ensure avoiding truancy allegations. Send your notice return-receipt requested to prove it reached its destination. Though there is no official form that must be submitted, a sample notice of intent may be available through your local group.
According to Florida Statute 1003.01(13), all children ages 6-16 are required to attend school regularly. If your child turns 6 sometime between the beginning of the school year and February 1, that child is required to attend the entire school year, and you are required to notify the superintendent.
In the rare case your superintendent returns your letter of intent if your child is 5, a conversation with the superintendent about the mandatory kindergarten portion of the law would be appropriate.
When you begin to teach your 6-year-old, you may start with kindergarten, first grade, any other grade, or even the continuation of a preschool program. Kindergarten does not necessarily start at age 5; however, in the public-school system, if the child turns 5 on or before September 1 of that school year, he may be registered for kindergarten.
It is permissible to teach kindergarten when your child is 5 even though you are not required to register your child with the superintendent or provide an end-of-the-year evaluation.
2. Maintaining your portfolio
Your portfolio must contain two parts, the first being documented records. Legally speaking, documented records are “a log of educational activities which is made contemporaneously with the instruction and which designates by title any reading materials used.” “Contemporaneously with the instruction” means the documentation should occur at the same time as the instruction.
This keeps your documentation and materials in chronological order, which aids in the evaluation or inspection process. Since Florida law does not require lessons to be planned or approved in advance, this allows for more spontaneity in your teaching and for capturing teachable moments.
Sample materials must also be included. The law refers to these as “samples of any writings, worksheets, workbooks or creative materials used or developed by the student.”
According to Statute 1002.41, home educators are not required to keep attendance or meet “the requirements of a school day as defined in statute 1002.01.” A county or state official cannot require you to keep or show attendance records. The best way to deal with such a request is to ask your FPEA District Director to look into the matter.
3. Making your portfolio available
Florida law requires you to make your portfolio “available for inspection by the superintendent or the superintendent’s agent, upon 15 days’ written notice.” The superintendent, or his or her agent, is not required to inspect the portfolio as a matter of routine, but does have the right to inspect it if the 15-day written notice is provided. You are not required to show your portfolio to anyone requesting it without proper notice. The inspection is only to make sure the portfolio is legal; the superintendent cannot evaluate its contents.
4. Submitting an annual evaluation.
The law requires an annual educational evaluation, which the parent or guardian must file with the district school superintendent’s office. The parent is responsible to ensure the evaluation arrives there. It is suggested you send it certified mail, return receipt requested. The annual evaluation is due on the anniversary date of the submission of your letter of intent. This date is not to be confused with the date of the submission of your last annual evaluation.
Nothing in the law requires families to comply with any other particular date, nor can the local school district enforce an arbitrary deadline.
The home-education law provides five evaluation options:
• An individual evaluation by a Florida-certified teacher of your choice
• Any nationally normed student achievement test administered by a certified teacher of your choice
• A state student assessment test
• A psychological evaluation
• Any other method mutually agreed upon by the parent and the superintendent.
After you send in your child’s evaluation, the superintendent is directed by law to “review and accept the results of the annual educational evaluation.” When the Florida-certified teacher concludes that your child has progressed sufficiently according to his ability, then the superintendent legally “shall accept” this conclusion, and the report goes into your child’s file. However, if your child’s evaluation does not indicate sufficient progress, the superintendent will notify you in writing that your child will be on a one-year probation. During the one-year probation period, you should provide remedial instruction. At the end of that year your child will again be evaluated and must show sufficient progress according to his ability. If sufficient progress is not shown, your child will no longer be eligible to be registered with the district. If you want to continue home education, you may be able to enroll your child in a private school that would provide assistance and oversight.
5. Preserving your records.
According to the law, “the portfolio shall be preserved by the parent for two years.” It would be wise to preserve the high school portfolio for longer than two years.
6. Submitting your notice of termination.
If you decide to no longer home educate under 1002.41, move out of the county, put your child in a public or private school, or your child graduates or completes your home-education program, you must file a notice of termination with the superintendent’s office within 30 days of the time you terminate.
A notice of termination should include the same student information as the notice of intent. Again, send your notice certified mail, return receipt requested to prove it reached its destination.