Pauline's Guide to Homeschooling in PA:

Alternatives to the Pennsylvania Home Education Law (Act 169)

Most of my homeschooling web pages refer to The Pennsylvania Home Education Law, Act 169 of 1988.  The vast majority of families who teach their children at home in PA do so under this law, commonly referred to as “the homeschooling law”.  (For more information about complying with Act 169, start at my Complying with the PA Homeschooling Law page.)

However, there are several other options for families who teach their children at home in Pennsylvania.  Here is a brief overview of these options.  Some of these options are more theoretical than realistic – I include them here since questions sometimes come up about them.  All of these options have pros and cons.  You will need to decide what is the right choice for your own family.  Please consider your options carefully, and seek advice from others more knowledgeable than I if you are interested in pursuing one of these routes.  I am NOT a lawyer.

Public Cyber Charter School:

Students may enroll in a PA public cyber charter school. These are free public schools that use the internet to teach students at home.  These students are not considered home educated students under PA law -- they are public school students.  Obviously, this option has pros and cons to consider.  Please see my cyber-charter school page for details and links to some of the schools.

Homebound Instruction:

Students who cannot attend public school because of serious illness or other situations, may be eligible for homebound instruction from the school district.  In this case a teacher visits the home and provides tutoring for several hours a week.  These services are provided for free.  Students are considered public school students.  Parents in this situation should weigh carefully the difference between homebound instruction and other forms of home-based education before deciding which option is right for their family. 

Private Tutor:

Perhaps the most popular alternative to the PA Home Education Law is the PA private tutor provision, which, unlike the home education law, does not require standardized testing or routine portfolio review.  Parents who hold a PA teaching certificate, or who hire a private tutor who does, may qualify to use this provision.  See my private tutor page for details.  In October 2004, the PA Department of Education (PDE) enacted new regulations, which have changed some of the procedures and requirements for private tutoring.  Be sure to check out the changes!

Umbrella School:

In some states, homeschoolers can enroll in a private school, do their studies at home, and report to the school instead of to the local school district.  The private school is called an “umbrella school” or “cover school”.  In some such arrangements, the student must use the school’s curriculum; in others, the school allows the family considerable leeway and there are few, if any, requirements to be met. 

In Pennsylvania, there is no specific provision in the law for umbrella schools.  According to the PDE, enrollment alone is not enough to fulfill the compulsory attendance law; students must also attend the school full-time, otherwise they must file under the private tutor law or the home education law.  So even if you are enrolled in a correspondance school like Clonlara or Calvert or Seton, you have to file as a home education program and do the associated paperwork with your local school district. 

A few school districts have individual, informal arrangements with homeschoolers who are enrolled in correspondence schools, such as allowing the school’s report card to substitute for the usual end-of-year evaluation and portfolio. 

Some PA private schools, such as Upattinas, have an active relationship with the homeschooling community.  They may offer services to homeschoolers, such as curriculum consultation, evaluations, testing, diploma programs, etc. 

Also, it is my understanding that a few private schools quietly allow local students to enroll and do “independent studies” at home, despite the PDE’s interpretation of the law, and some districts do not contest this.  In a case like this you would, of course, have to pay tuition and meet the school’s requirements regarding schoolwork, documentation, etc.  I do not have specific information about any such schools.  Knowledgeable local homeschoolers can tell you more about the possible existence of these options in your area.  In general, though, these situations are rare. 

Most families in PA who use curriculum from a correspondence school also file an affidavit and end-of-year documentation with their local school district.

Exclusion Under the Immunization Regulations:

Parents who do not immunize, or who selectively immunize, may wish to read this 2007 Basic Education Circular. It states, in part, "Under the revised Department of Health Immunization regulations, students not exempted from immunization for medical or religious reasons (per 28 Pa. Code §23.84) (See also 24 P.S. §1303a(c) and (d)) and who have not completed the full series of all immunizations (antigens) required by 28 Pa. Code §23.83 of the regulations may not be admitted to school."

Apparantly, under certain circumstances, "The compulsory attendance laws of the Commonwealth do not apply to students excluded from school attendance under the revised Immunization regulations. School officials are without authority under the compulsory attendance laws to initiate legal proceedings against parents whose child is not allowed to attend school because of his or her failure to receive required immunizations. See 24 P.S. §14-1417."

However, note that 24 P.S. §1303a) states: "(b) Any person who shall fail, neglect, or refuse to comply with, or who shall violate, any of the provisions or requirements of this section [requiring immunization], except as hereinafter provided, shall, for every such offense, upon summary conviction thereof, be sentenced to pay a fine of not less than five dollars ($5) nor more than one hundred dollars ($100), and in default thereof, to undergo an imprisonment in the jail of the proper county for a period not exceeding sixty (60) days. All such fines shall be paid into the treasury of the school district."

It is unclear to me what "for every such offense" means - is it per child, or per missing immunization, or something else? And is it a one-time fine? Note that (as I read it) the jail clause is only for those who have not paid the fine. Note also that this does NOT apply to students who submit documentation of a medical contraindication, or whose parents object (in writing) to immunization on religious grounds. (See 24 P.S. §1303a.)

I suggest reading all of the sections of Subchapter C. IMMUNIZATION . Note that "attendance at school" is defined as "The attendance at a grade, or special classes, kindergarten through 12th grade, including ... home education students and students of cyber and charter schools."

See more about immunization requirements on my medical page.

I have only recently come across this BEC, and I don't know of anyone who has used it to avoid the compulsory attendance law. I don't know how feasible it would be in this regard, or if there are other consequences or aspects of the law to consider. Please read the entire BEC, all of the law/code references, and seriously consider seeking legal (and perhaps medical) council, if you wish to persue an exemption to the compulsory attendance law based on this information.

Church School:

HSLDA, on their web site at http://www.hslda.org/laws/default.asp?State=PA, describes the option to “Establish and/or operate a home school as an extension or satellite of a day school operated by a church or other religious body”.  The PDE does not believe this is a valid homeschooling option.  They interpret the church school law to mean that the child must actually attend the school full-time, not just be enrolled.  Nonetheless, I understand that there is at least one church school in operation, as described in this article from PA Homeschoolers.  Be sure to read this follow-up article about the legal issues involved.

If you are considering this option, I would contact both the PDE and HSLDA for more information – see Who can help me with legal questions?.

For the church school law, see 24 PS 13-1327 Compulsory school attendance (scroll down to 1327 (b)).  For the relevant PA Code, see 022 Pa. Code  11.32. Students attending nonpublic or private schools.  The code says
“A child of compulsory school age regularly ATTENDING FULL-TIME a nonpublic school that is in compliance with section 1327(b) of the Public School Code of 1949 (24 P. S.   13-1327(b)) or an accredited or licensed private school, in which the instruction prescribed by statute and this part is taught, shall be in compliance with the compulsory attendance requirements.”
 
(Caps mine.  1327(b) is the church school section of the compulsory attendance law.)

Religious Exemption:

Pennsylvania does not have a formal religious exemption option specifically designed for homeschoolers.  However, it is my understanding that a handful of homeschoolers have made individual, informal, sometimes unspoken agreements with their school districts in this regard. 

Some folks in PA are considering whether PA Religious Freedom Act, enacted in 2003, can apply in some way, for some people, to the requirements of the PA home education law (or even to the compulsory attendance law).  For a full discussion of this option, see my Religious Freedom Protection Act page.  Some families are working with HSLDA on a lawsuit over this issue. For news on the lawsuit, see my Religious Freedom Protection Act News page.

This is a new law, and it remains to be seen whether it will prove useful to homeschoolers.

Schooling "Underground":

A few families choose not to comply with the home education law.  This is often called homeschooling "underground".  There are many reasons for this choice, including carefully thought out religious or philosophical concerns, having more important things to attend to (such as a recent move, a new baby, or a serious illness), or simply not getting around to registering (which can happen to the best of us!). 

Just to be clear:  homeschooling underground is against the law. 

A bit of background:  PA state education law is based on the compulsory attendance law.  Basically, all school-aged children must either attend a public school, receive homebound instruction from the school district, enroll in a public cyber charter school, attend a private school, be privately tutored, or do an affidavit and portfolio as per the home education law.  If you teach your children at home but you do not do one of the above, your child can be considered truant.  Note that it doesn’t matter how much your child is learning, or how much you have been teaching – legally speaking, it’s the paperwork that counts.

If you are looking at the home education law and getting overwhelmed, relax.  Yes, it sounds complicated.  But once you’ve done it the first time, it usually goes pretty smoothly the next year, and serious problems are very rare.  My web site has lots of info and handy-dandy pre-made forms to help you through it.  Just get through the affidavit part to begin with, then you have some time before you have to do the rest.

If, however, you are considering going underground for religious/philosophical or ideological reasons, here are a few things to consider.  Keep in mind that everyone must make the decision that is right for their own family, and different families will make different choices.  Only you can weigh the pros and cons and come up with the balance that is right for your own family.

         Carefully consider how you feel about the risks involved.  Being underground carries with it the ongoing possibility of truancy charges.  For some, this may not be a big deal.  For others, it would be an ongoing source of worry and, if charges were brought, a serious problem for the family.  You can expect to appear in court, you may need to hire (and pay for) a lawyer. If things do not go well, you may have to pay fines, there is a possibility that your child can be arrested and can lose their driver's license, and in extreme cases your child can be removed from the home. If you are considering being underground, I strongly suggest you read and understand the Juvenile Law Center's Fact Sheet on Truancy, so that you understand up-front the possible consequences.  (Of course, going legal has risks too.  According to the PDE, before the October 2014 change in the home education law, about one in a hundred home education students had their portfolios deemed “inappropriate” by their superintendent, though only one in a thousand – about 20 total a year -- end up in hearings about it.  See my Act 169 Statistics page.)

         Are you in a custody battle or other situation where you need the veneer of respectability that being legal can provide?  (Or where failing to register can be used against you?)

         It is probably wise to put some prior thought into the details of going underground.  For example, you may want to carefully consider who, if anyone, you will tell about your underground status.  In order to avoid problems, will you be willing to lie about it, or will you be open about it?  How will you discuss the situation with your children?  Will you ever feel compelled to ask them to lie about it?  (Be aware that this kind of information, once given out, can spread.  For example, I am aware of the underground status of at least one family in my area whom I have never met.) 

         Carefully consider your particular community – do you live in a small community where you will be running into school officials socially, such as at clubs, sports, the pool, or at church?  Will this be a concern for you? 

         Will you run into any problems documenting your child’s education, since they have no legal paper trail?  I don’t know, but it’s worth thinking about.  This may or may not be a concern, depending on a number of factors. 

         Consider what records you will want to keep “just in case”.  (This will be different for different families.)

         Especially if you are “outside the mainstream’” in many of your parenting and lifestyle choices, you will need to consider whether truancy has the potential of opening a can of worms regarding state concerns about your family.  It is unclear to me whether truancy charges are likely to trigger a social services investigation.  Again, for some people this is not a concern; for others, it is a serious consideration.

         Also remember to consider/include/respect the feelings and concerns of your spouse/partner and/or anyone who gives you substantial support in your homeschooling and parenting.

Most homeschoolers in PA choose to comply with the law.  A few choose to go underground.  It is a very personal decision that should not, in my opinion, be made lightly.  I do not recommend going underground unless you have clear personal religious or ideological reasons for it, and unless you fully understand the possible consequences and are able to accept responsibility for them. 

Is the parent required to do all the teaching?

No.  The supervisor of the home education program is ultimately responsible for the provision of instruction and filing with the district, but is not required to provide all of the instruction personally.  Many home educated students participate in cyber schools, correspondence schools, video schools, local classes, co-ops, scouting, museum or library programs, etc, where instruction is given by someone other than the parent. 

Can someone else homeschool my child?

The PA home education law was intended to apply to families who teach their own children.  Your child can spend most of their time with another person (such as a grandparent or another homeschooling mom), who provides most of your child's instruction.  However, you, the parent, will still need to meet the requirements for a home education program supervisor and you will need to be the person who files the paperwork (affidavit and portfolio) with the school district.

If you work during school hours, your child will need both child care and schooling - they may or may not happen at the same time.  You can have someone care for your child during school hours, and school them yourself nights and weekends.  (This is not easy.)  Or you can find someone who can both care for your child and provide some or all of their schooling.

Hiring a private tutor or using a public cyber charter school may also be the right choice for you.

Who must report to the school district?

You must file assorted paperwork for each child you will be home educating when he or she is between the ages of 8 and 17. See my school age page for details.

If your child is not yet 8, and has not been to 1st grade or above, you do not need to report to the school district in any way (you don’t have to file an affidavit, keep a log, submit a portfolio, etc.), and most parents choose not to.

If your child turns eight before or during the first two weeks of the annual school term, (or within the first two weeks of the second semester, if the school district in which you reside promotes students semi-annually (which few if any districts do anymore)), the affidavit needs to be filed by the child's birth date. If the child turns 8 during the school term, the affidavit should be filed prior to the beginning of the next school year.

If the child has been enrolled in any school in grade 1 or above, you must file an affidavit whenever you begin home educating, regardless of the child's age.

 This page is designed as an OVERVIEW of the law.  I am not a lawyer.  You will need to seek more knowledgeable advice before choosing one of these options.  I could be wrong!  Opinions vary on some points of the law, and I have tried to present the range of opinions so that you may choose what's right for your family.