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Handling Problems with Your School District
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Ask the district what they expect from homeschooling families, but don't assume that they are implementing the law appropriately. Some of PA's 501 school districts are better than others in this regard, and misinformation is sadly not uncommon.
You can also ask other home educators in your district (and/or in other districts) what they've been handing in to the district, but don't assume that what they hand in is required by law.
The most important resource is the law itself. Read it yourself; it's awkwardly-written in parts but not too difficult to understand.
What is the process if the school district challenges my home education program?
See my due process page to understand when and how the school district can challenge your home education program.
Basically, you start with the law. Read it for yourself. Lots of people (including me) try to be helpful by giving summaries, translations, examples, and opinions on the law, but there is no substitute for reading it for yourself.
There are some parts of the law that are quite clear, and others that are not.
For example, the law says "Supervisor" shall mean the parent or guardian or such person having legal custody of the child or children who shall be responsible for the provision of instruction, provided that such person has a high school diploma or its equivalent. So the home education supervisor has to have a high school diploma or the equivalent. But we can all have different opinions on what constitutes an "equivalent". For example, a friend was educated in another country, where it was normal to leave school at 15. Would this count? Different people would have different opinions. But they all would have to agree that she would have to, in some way, meet the "high school diploma or its equivalent" requirement in order to homeschool - that part of the law is clear.
So you can read the law and decide what you think it says you have to do. Your school district also has an "interpretation" of the law, and so does the PA Department of Education (PDE).
If your interpretation and your district's interpretation agree, (regardless of what the PDE thinks) then you're just fine. If they disagree, then you could have a problem.
One way to resolve it is to consult with the PDE and see how they interpret the law. Neither you nor the district has to agree with the PDE. However, in my experience, when the homeschooler's interpretation and the PDE's interpretation agree, the school district will usually back down and accept this interpretation.
This is the case with home education supervisors turning in a copy of their high school diploma with their affidavit. The home education supervisor must have "high school diploma or its equivalent". The PDE's position is that the supervisor's sworn statement in the affidavit is proof enough that they have a diploma (or equivalent), and they do not need to turn in a copy of the actual diploma. (Unless the district has a specific reason to suspect that the supervisor does not in fact have a diploma - for example if the supervisor went to school in that district and did not graduate.) However, some districts still expect new home education supervisors to turn in a copy of their diploma with their first affidavit.
Many home educators have called the PDE about this question, or asked their district to call the PDE. In some cases, the PDE has sent a letter to the district on the homeschoolers' behalf, explaining their position. There's even a copy of one of these letters on the web, which you can print and use. (See my Affidavit Page for the link.) In these cases, the school district usually backs down and accepts the affidavit as proof, and the homeschooler does not need to produce a copy of their diploma.
In some cases, the PDE doesn’t agree with many homeschoolers. One example is the format of the log required of home educators. The PDE does not feel that the log can simply be a list of books, even though many home educators use this interpretation. They believe the law requires a full-blown log, with daily entries. In cases like this, if your district and the PDE agree with each other and disagree with you, obviously, the PDE won't be able to help you out. (Note - since the October 2014 law change, the log (as well as the rest of the portfolio) is no longer given to the district as part of the end of year paperwork. Thus, this particular example no longer applies. However, the principle still stands - the PDE is not of much help if they disagree with your interpretation of the law and agree with your district's.)
By the way, it never hurts to talk to the PDE and get their interpretation. You don't have to agree with it, and you don't have to advertise it to your district if you don't agree with it. If your interpretation does not agree with the PDE's, you can still write your own letter to your district explaining your position. Sometimes this is effective, sometimes not.
You can try to work it out, as I've explained above.
If the problem is with the home education affidavit, and your child is not attending school while you work it out, your district could charge you with truancy. So it usually pays to work it out before you pull your child out. (Unless, of course, it's a school safety issue. In that case, get your kid out. Either give the district what they want and worry about it later, or risk the truancy -- there might be a fine of a couple of hundred dollars.)
If the problem is with the end of year paperwork, there's a whole procedure outlined in the law. I have a page about it here; you should also read the law for yourself.
If you feel that your religious beliefs do not allow you to fully comply with the law, you may wish to contact HSLDA or another homeschooling legal organization.
If your district does not just interpret the law differently than you, but is actually asking for things that are clearly not required (such as home visits, or an interview with your child, or having your child take the PSSA), then you would be wise to contact other homeschoolers in your district. Share your concerns. Call a meeting in someone’s home or a local park to talk about it. It’s not necessary for you all to agree on everything in order to work together on a specific problem. Educate each other about the law – what it says, what it doesn’t say, how other districts handle things. Have someone call the PDE and get their point of view. Then work together to solve the problem. Above all, do not be afraid of your district. If the law is on your side, and you address the issue respectfully, chances are good that it will end well.
Homeschoolers will not all comply with the law in the same way. That’s OK. You each have to decide what you feel the law requires, and how your family will comply with that. Some of you will have thick portfolios; others will have thin ones. Some will have long evaluation certification letters; others brief ones. Some will have daily logs; others will have a book list and an attendance chart. Some of you will do “school at home”; others will take an unschooling approach. Some will use lots of textbooks, others will have many books from the library. That’s OK. It’s what makes homeschooling work so well – we can tailor it to the needs and abilities of our children and our families. A good education for every child does not mean the same education for every child.
Teach your school district to expect this diversity. Educate them on what the law does and does not say. And stand together to resist those things that are clearly not required.
Local and state-wide homeschooling support groups and e-mail groups can be helpful in answering legal questions. It can also be useful to talk to other homeschoolers in your school district, who will know about your district's usual practices. There is no substitute for reading the law yourself!
Most homeschoolers in PA advise that you do not give your school district anything that is not required by law. When your district is asking for extras, or otherwise giving you a hard time, the following folks can be useful contacts.
HSLDA is a Christian organization that, for about $100 per family per year, may provide legal assistance if you face certain types of legal problems concerning your homeschooling. They may be particularly useful to families who feel that the requirements of PA law conflict with their religious beliefs.
Should you join HSLDA “just in case”? That’s a very individual decision. Talk to other homeschoolers and get their input before you decide. Here’s my take on it.
HSLDA served homeschoolers well in the early days of the homeschooling movement, when homeschooling was illegal or quasi-legal in many states. Even now, when homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, some homeschoolers consider HSLDA membership to be an essential piece of homeschooling. They like to have legal advice a phone call away.
On the other hand, many folks have serious philosophical or religious differences with HSLDA. HSLDA holds to a conservative Christian philosophy, and they are not a single-issue organization. Most homeschoolers in PA do not belong to HSLDA. Most homeschoolers in PA will never need their services. Most confident homeschooling parents can handle minor problems themselves, as I’ve described on this page.
If you are considering HSLDA membership, look at both sides of the issue before making your decision. Here are some links that present both points of view.
It is my understanding that HSLDA membership is not the same thing as legal insurance, and that they may or may not decide to take your case if you have a problem. Custody cases where homeschooling plays a role seem to be particularly problematic. They also may not support those homeschoolers who take an "unschooling" approach, rather than using standard curriculum materials in a more "school-at-home" approach. In addition, they may not support homeschooling families who have a child in public school, even a public cyber-charter school, and even if the problem is with a different child who is traditionally homeschooled. Read their materials carefully, and ask questions so that you know exactly what you are getting for your money, and whether it’s the right choice for you.
Note: When consulting sources about the PA Home Education Law, make sure they are up-to-date. Some areas of the law underwent significant changes in October 2014. Specifically, there were major changes to the end-of-year paperwork, some aspects of home education diplomas, and the due process rules.