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Due Process

What happens if the school district thinks I may not be giving my child an appropriate education, or there are other issues with my home education program?

Most home educators in PA have few serious problems with their school district. They turn in their paperwork, the district OKs it, and all is well. However, in a few cases, things do not go as smoothly. I believe it's important for all home educators to understand what the law says about the home educator's rights and responsibilities, as well as the school district's, in such situations. By knowing your responsibilities, you can comply with the law, which can minimize the possibility of problems due to missed deadlines or incomplete paperwork. And by knowing your rights, you can respond calmly, professionally, and appropriately if any questions arise about your home education program. This page starts with a review of the basic responsibilities, and then goes on to cover the parts of the home education law that deal with various issues that may arise. Below I've shown the relevant parts of the law, which look like this, with a few thoughts.

New!!! --> Note that the October 2014 changes to the home education law minimize the superintendent's oversight of the home education program by eliminating their end-of-year review of the portfolio. Instead, only the evaluator's certification that an appropriate education has occured is given to the school district. This change should eliminate many of the issues that in the past arose via the superintendent's review of the portfolio.

(Note that this page applies to the PA Home Education Law (24 PS 13-1327.1). The home education law does not apply to students using an alternative to the home education law, such as private tutoring, public cyber-charter school, etc.; issues for such students would be handled differently. Note also that, as always, it's best to read the Home Ed law for yourself, in full, in context; there is a copy here.)

OK, let's review the basics first.

"Appropriate education" is the standard for assessing a home education program.

The law says:

"Appropriate education" shall mean a program consisting of
instruction in the required subjects
for the time required in this act and
in which the student demonstrates sustained progress in the overall program.

Note that there are three aspects to "appropriate education":

~ instruction "for the time required", described in the law as "a minimum of one hundred eighty (180) days of instruction or nine hundred (900) hours of instruction per year at the elementary level [grades 1-6], or nine hundred ninety (990) hours per year at the secondary level" [grades 7-12]. (More discussion of this here.)

~ "instruction in the required subjects", (They are described here.), and

~ "sustained progress in the overall program".

All of these are to some extent subjective, especially "sustained progress". Note that there is NO requirement to meet state educational standards; PA home educators create their own educational objectives for their students. Students also do not need to score at a certain level on the standardized tests.

Your evaluator is the person who makes the judgement as to whether or not you have provided an "appropriate education" (unless you end up in a hearing - more on that below). You get to hire an evaluator of your choosing. There are many experienced evaluators across the state, so you should be able to find one who is comfortable with your style of home educating and your approach to documenting it.

In order to demonstrate that appropriate education is occurring, you must maintain a portfolio and get an evaluation.

The law says:

(e) In order to demonstrate that appropriate education is occurring, the supervisor of the home education program shall provide and maintain on file the following documentation for each student enrolled in the home education program:

(1) A portfolio of records and materials...

The portfolio shall consist of

a log, made contemporaneously with the instruction, which designates by title the reading materials used,

samples of any writings, worksheets, workbooks or creative materials used or developed by the student

and in grades three, five and eight results of nationally normed standardized achievement tests in reading/language arts and mathematics or the results of Statewide tests administered in these grade levels.

(2) An annual written evaluation of the student's educational progress...

The evaluation shall ... be based on an interview of the child and a review of the portfolio required in clause (1) and shall certify whether or not an appropriate education is occurring.

You must submit the evaluator's certification to the school district at the end of the school year, by June 30.

(h.1) An evaluator's certification stating that an appropriate education is occurring for the school year under review shall be provided by the supervisor to the superintendent of the public school district of residence by June 30 of each year.

Note that as of the October 2014 change to the home education law, you no longer need to submit your portfolio to the superintendent. You only need to submit the evalautor's certification.

What if you miss the deadline?

If the supervisor fails to submit the certification due on June 30 to the superintendent, the superintendent shall send a letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, to the supervisor of the home education program, stating that the certification is past due and notifying the supervisor to submit the certification within ten (10) days of receipt of the certified letter.

So if you miss the deadline and thus get a certified letter from the school district about it, you have only ten days to put together a portfolio (log, samples of work, and in 3rd, 5th, and 8th grades, standardized test results), hire an evaluator, have the evaluation (where the evaluator interviews your child, reviews the portfolio, and gives you a certification letter), and submit the certification to the superintendent. That can be a lot to pull together in ten days!!!

What if you don't submit the certification within ten days of getting the school district's letter?

If you don't submit the certification within 10 days, there will be a hearing. See below for more information on hearings.

If the certification is not submitted within that time, the board of school directors shall provide for a proper hearing in accordance with subsection (k).

Under certain circumstances, the superintendent can ask for documentation during the school year.

Note that it's very rare to get a mid-year request for documentation. There are two scenarios where this can happen -

  • if the superintendent has a reasonable belief ... that appropriate education may not be occurring in the home education program
  • if the superintendent has a reasonable belief that the home education program is out of compliance with any other provisions of the home education law.

In the case of reasonable belief that appropriate education may not be occuring:

In this case, the superintendent can send you a letter requiring you to get a mid-year evaluation. This can happen at any point in the school year. If you get such a letter, you have 30 days to put together a portfolio (log, samples of work, and in 3rd, 5th, and 8th grades, standardized test results), hire an evaluator, have the evaluation (where the evaluator interviews your child, reviews the portfolio, and gives you a certification letter), and submit the certification letter to the superintendent.

(i.1) If the superintendent has a reasonable belief, at any time during the school year, that appropriate education may not be occurring in the home education program, he may submit a letter to the supervisor, by certified mail, return receipt requested, requiring that an evaluation be conducted in accordance with subsection (e)(2) and that an evaluator's certification stating that an appropriate education is occurring for the school year under review, be submitted to the district by the supervisor within thirty (30) days of the receipt of the certified letter. The certified letter shall include the basis for the superintendent's reasonable belief.

What if it's a testing year and you haven't done the tests yet?

Note that if it is a testing year, and you haven't yet given the tests, you can leave them out of the mid-year portfolio. (You will, however, need to have them finished in time for your end-of-year evaluation.)

If the tests, as required in subsection (e)(1), have not been administered at the time of the receipt of the certified letter by the supervisor, the supervisor shall submit the other required documentation to the evaluator and shall submit the test results to the evaluator with the completed documentation at the conclusion of the school year.

What if you don't submit the certification within thirty days of getting the school district's letter?

If you don't submit the certification within 30 days, there will be a hearing. See below for more information on hearings.

If the certification is not submitted to the superintendent within thirty (30) days of receipt of the certified letter, the board of school directors shall provide for a proper hearing in accordance with subsection (k).

In the case of reasonable belief that the home education program is out of compliance with any other provision of the home education law:

The law says:

(j.1) If the superintendent has a reasonable belief that the home education program is out of compliance with any other provisions of this section, the superintendent shall submit a letter to the supervisor by certified mail, return receipt requested, requiring a certification to be submitted within thirty (30) days indicating that the program is in compliance. The certified letter shall include the basis for the superintendent's reasonable belief.

So the superintendent's letter should state the aspect of the home education law he believes you are not in compliance with. You then need to submit a certification that you are in fact in compliance. (Presumably, if you are actually not in compliance when you get the letter, you need to do what's needed to address that and come into compliance before submitting the certification.)

Who makes the certification?

That is not clear to me. In the other two scenarios in the law (when the superintendent has a reasonable belief that appropriate education may not be occuring, or when you fail to turn in an evaluator's certification by the deadline at the end of the school year), the law is clearly asking for an evaluation to take place, and for you to submit the evaluator's certification regarding an appropriate education.

However, this section, as I read it (and I could be wrong!), is about being out of compliance with other provisions of the law - that is, things other than appropriate education. This might include things like not complying with the medical requirements, having someone who has been convicted of kidnapping or rape in the previous five years move into the student's home, not following the law when moving to another school district, etc. In this kind of scenario, the evaluator may not be the logical person to write a certification that the home ed program is now in compliance. For example, if the superintendent has a reasonable belief that the supervisor does not have a high school diploma or equivalent, then would it be the evalautor or the supervisior (or someone else) who would need to create the certification that the supervisor does indeed have a diploma thus the program is in compliance? I do not know. This is a new part of the law, and we are all still reading carefully and asking questions. If you are in this situation, a call to the PDE to clarify this question may be wise.

What if you miss the thirty-day deadline?

If you don't submit the certification within 30 days, there will be a hearing. See below for more information on hearings.

If the certification is not submitted to the superintendent within thirty (30) days of receipt of the certified letter, the board of school directors shall provide for a proper hearing in accordance with subsection (k).

What if my issue goes to a hearing?

The school district will set up a hearing within 30 days.

(k) If a hearing is required by the provisions of subsection (h.1), (i.1) or (j.1), the board of school directors shall provide for a proper hearing by a duly qualified and impartial hearing examiner within thirty (30) days.

The school district hires the hearing examiner.

"Hearing examiner" shall not be an officer, employe or agent of the Department of Education or of the school district or intermediate unit of residence of the child in the home education program.

The examiner must return your documentation when he is finished reviewing it. He may keep copies.

(g) When documentation is required by this section to be submitted to the hearing examiner, the hearing examiner shall return, upon completion of his review, all such documentation to the supervisor of the home education program.

The hearing examiner may photocopy all or portions of the documentation for his files.

It is not clear to me what kinds of documentation the hearing examiner is entitled to ask to see - whether it is just the evaluator's certification, or whether it is the full portfolio and/or other documentation. This may (or may not) depend on the issues that led to the hearing.

The examiner has 15 days to make a decision.

The examiner shall render a decision within fifteen (15) days of the hearing ...

The examiner may require a remedial education plan.

The hearing examiner may decide to require a remedial education plan; in this case you can continue to home educate your child.

...except that he may require the establishment of a remedial education plan mutually agreed to by the superintendent and supervisor of the home education program which shall continue the home education program.

If the examiner finds that you are not providing an appropriate education, your home ed program is out of compliance and the student must be enrolled in school.

(l) If the hearing examiner finds that the evidence does not indicate that appropriate education is taking place in the home education program, the home education program for the child shall be out of compliance with the requirements of this section and section 1327 [the home education law and the compulsory attendance law], and the student shall be promptly enrolled in the public school district of residence or a nonpublic school or a licensed private academic school.

This language was written before public charter schools and public cyber-charter schools were established; I do not know whether they would be considered to be "in the public school district of residence".

If your home ed program is found to be out of compliance, you (and your spouse) will not be allowed to home educate this child again for a year.

(m) At such time as the child's home education program has been determined to be out of compliance with the provisions of this section and section 1327, the supervisor or spouse of the supervisor of the home education program shall not be eligible to supervise a home education program for that child, as provided for in subsection (b)(1) of this section, for a period of twelve (12) months from the date of such determination.

There does seem to be room for the child to be enrolled in a home education program with a supervisor other than the previous supervisor or their spouse. If the child has another parent or guardian in the picture, that possibility could be explored.

You can appeal the examiner's decision.

If you don't agree with the examiner's decision, you can appeal. Conversely, if the superintendent doesn't agree with the decision, they also have the right to appeal.

The decision of the examiner may be appealed by either the supervisor of the home education program or the superintendent to the Secretary of Education, Commonwealth Court or court of common pleas.

The home education program may continue during the time of any appeal.