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The Legal Who, What, When, and Where of Homeschooling

You’ve decided to homeschool. Of course you want to do things right. After all, it’s your family’s future you’re planning. By now, you know it’s legal. But how exactly do you comply with the law? What does the law say about homeschooling? What steps should you take?

The Virginia homeschool law is very precise in most areas. Among other things, it defines who can teach at home, what requirements must be fulfilled, when to notify the state authorities, as well as where a parent can go if he disagrees with a superintendent’s decision.

Although the legalese can sound very complicated, don’t be intimidated—help is available! There are many experienced homeschoolers who can offer encouragement. Local support-group leaders who are familiar with the legal atmosphere in your area can tell you what to expect. The Virginia Homeschool Manual includes copies of the homeschool laws and related statutes, Attorney Generals’ Opinions, helpful forms, and other useful resources. HEAV office personnel will be glad to answer your questions. You may also e-mail your questions to us at office@heav.org.

With these things in mind, take one step at a time and refer to the source material in the Virginia Homeschool Manual (especially references to the statute). It’s important to understand your rights as a parent and know the correct application of the homeschool law. Here we’ll address some of the questions that are asked most often:

Who must attend school?

What educational options are available for children?

What are the legal steps to homeschool?

Whom do I notify that I plan to homeschool?

When should I send in my notification?

What can I do if I disagree with a decision made by the superintendent?

What if I am homeschooling because of sincere religious beliefs?

 

Who must attend school?

If your child will be five years old on or before September 30, and has not passed his eighteenth birthday, he must attend school §22.1-254 (A).

However, there is an important exemption to this statute. If, in your opinion as a parent, your child is not mentally, physically, or emotionally prepared to attend school, you may delay your child’s attendance for one year §22.1-254 (H) (5). Your child may be exempted from compulsory school attendance if he is not six on or before September 30, and you notify the school board that you don’t want him to attend school until the following year. If you elect to keep your five-year-old at home, you may still teach your child in a manner suitable for his age and maturity. With this exemption, it’s not necessary to submit a “Notice of Intent to Homeschool” form until he is six by September 30.

If you plan to homeschool the following year, you may register your six-year-old child as a kindergartner or first-grader depending on his level of achievement and maturity. Regardless, end-of-the-year testing is not required for students who are five years old on September 30 of the school year. The deadline for filing the “Notice of Intent to Homeschool” is August 15 of the year in which you plan to formally teach at home.

 

What educational options are available for children?

According to §22.1-254 (A) a parent may (1) send his child to public school; (2) send his child to private, denominational, or parochial school; (3) have his child taught by a tutor or teacher of qualifications approved by the division superintendent; or (4) provide for home education as described in §22.1-254.1. A child may also be excused from compulsory education because of a religious exemption §22.1-254 (B)(1).

The first and second options for education listed above are self-explanatory. The third option referenced in §22.1-254 (A), also known as the “certified or approved tutor statute,” allows a child to be taught in or out of his home by a Virginia certified teacher (either his parent or another teacher) whose qualifications are approved by the superintendent. None of the requirements of the homeschool statute apply (i.e. testing). Any parent who meets the qualification of a certified teacher or approved tutor may teach under this option rather than the homeschool statute (see “Certified-Tutor Provision Clarified” in the Virginia Homeschool Manual).

To qualify under the certified-tutor option, a parent should submit his credentials to the Division of Teacher Education, Certification, and Professional Development of the Department of Education to secure a certificate or letter of eligibility. If the approved tutor is the parent, the parent simply sends a letter to the division superintendent with a copy of his teacher certification or letter of eligibility and indicates that he is complying with the third option of §22.1-254 (A).

If the parent who is an approved tutor teaches other children, the names of these children should also be listed in the letter. An approved tutor who is not the parent should send a letter with his certification verification and a list of the children being taught.

The fourth option in §22.1-254 (A) is home instruction. This is defined as the instruction of a child by his parent, guardian, or other person having control or charge of the child. It is not considered a private, denominational, or parochial school §22.1-254 (A).

 

What are the legal steps to homeschool?

1) First, according to §22.1-254.1 (A), you must meet one of four options.

You may teach at home if any one of the following conditions is met: if a parent (1) has a high school diploma; or (2) is a certified teacher*; or ((3) provides a program of study or curriculum which may be delivered through a correspondence course or distance learning program or in any other manner; or (iv) provides evidence that he is able to provide an adequate education for the child. These four options are listed on the form entitled, “Notice of Intent to Provide Home Instruction.”

*Note: If a Virginia certified teacher complies with option (2) of the homeschool statute as listed on the “Notice of Intent to Provide Home Instruction” form instead of §22.1-254 (A), end-of-the-year testing will be required as part of the homeschool statute.

 

2) Then, you must provide proof that you have met one of the four options.

Option (1) can be satisfied by attaching a copy of a high school diploma from either parent; option (2) can be satisfied by attaching a certificate or letter of eligibility indicating teacher certification; option (3) can be satisfied by including evidence of enrollment, such as a receipt for payment, letter of acceptance, or enrollment contract; or for an individualized curriculum, a copy of the table of contents or scope and sequence; and option (4) is satisfied by a well-written statement indicating why the parent is able to provide an adequate education for his child.

For the option (iv) statement, you might briefly state that because you are the parent, you know your child best and you are able to determine his academic needs. You might also say you plan to exercise diligence in teaching your child, using a well-planned curriculum. Although the superintendent cannot judge your reasons, he will determine if your statement exhibits a mastery of language, basic grammar, and correct spelling.

 

3) For all options, a description of the curriculum must be included.

A simple list of the subjects you plan to teach.

 

4) You must submit evidence of academic achievement.

If you have complied with the homeschool statute 22.1-254, you are  required to submit evidence of academic achievement. This evidence may be in the form of a standardized achievement test or an evaluation or assessment §22.1-254.1 (C) (see Testing and Evaluation in the Virginia Homeschool Manual). It must be submitted to the division superintendent by August 1 after each year of homeschooling.

 

5) You must comply with immunization requirements.

The homeschooling parent must comply with the immunization requirements in the same manner and to the same extent as public schools §22.1-271.4. These records are to be maintained by the parents at home. Immunization exemptions are available (see “Virginia Immunization Requirements” in the Virginia Homeschool Manual).

 

Whom do I notify that I plan to homeschool?

If you decide to homeschool, you must notify your local division superintendent or his designee §22.1-254.1 (B). This can be done by a personal letter, which includes evidence of meeting one of the requirements, or by using the “Notice of Intent to Homeschool” form. This form is included in the Virginia Homeschool Manual. It may also be downloaded from the HEAV website at www.heav.org or obtained from the HEAV office, your local division superintendent, or the State Department of Education.

Remember to keep copies of all correspondence. You may want to send your “Notice of Intent” form by registered mail. It’s not necessary to deliver it in person.

 

When should I send in my notification?

The division superintendent must be notified by August 15 of each school year. Parents who move into the school division after August 15 or who begin home instruction after the school year has begun, must notify the superintendent of their intent to homeschool as soon as practical and comply with the statute within thirty days of notification §22.1-254.1 (B).

If you decide to homeschool after the deadline, please refer to “Beginning Home Education after the Deadline” in the Virginia Homeschool Manual. This article addresses special situations and what you might expect.

 

What can I do if I disagree with a decision made by the superintendent?

If you disagree with a division superintendent’s decision, you may make an appeal to an independent hearing officer within thirty days. Inform your superintendent that you want to request an appeal. (This process is less intimidating for those who have retained experienced legal counsel.) An independent hearing officer will be chosen from a list maintained by the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court. After the appeal, the cost of the hearing will be apportioned by the hearing officer according to his findings §22.1-254.1(E).

 

What if I am homeschooling because of sincere religious beliefs?

Most homeschoolers who have religious beliefs are fully accommodated by the homeschool statute, §22.1-254.1. However, according to §22.1-254.1 (D), nothing in the homeschool statute shall prohibit a student and his parents from obtaining an exemption from school attendance because of bona fide religious training or belief as referenced in §22.1-254 (B) (1). This statute—known as “the religious exemption statute”—states, “A school board shall excuse from attendance at school any pupil who, together with his parents, by reason of bona fide religious training or belief, is conscientiously opposed to attendance at school,” §22.1-254 (B) (1). (For a more complete explanation of the terms used in this statute, please refer to the articles entitled “Virginia Religious Exemption” and “Religious Exemption—Demystified” in the Virginia Homeschool Manual.)

Both parents must have personal religious convictions against school attendance. While you may have philosophical, political, or sociological objections, or a personal moral code in opposition to school attendance, this cannot be the basis for a religious exemption. You must be conscientiously opposed to attendance at school because of bona fide religious training or belief in order to homeschool under §22.1-254 (B) (1). This statute cannot be used for any other reason.

Parents homeschooling under religious exemption should be prepared, if called upon, to testify before their local school board concerning their genuine religious beliefs. It is mandatory that parents have strong religious convictions, not just preferences. Because school boards differ in their understanding of the requirements for religious exemption, adequate legal representation is important. Homeschool Legal Defense Association provides legal services for homeschooling families, but you must be a member before a problem arises.

How you comply with the homeschool law is foundational to all other decisions concerning home instruction. Review your legal options carefully. Understand your choices. Then decide what is right for your family.

 

*The purpose of this article is to clarify the statutory procedures for homeschoolers. This information should not be construed as legal advice. HEAV encourages all homeschooling parents to seek legal counsel for specific applications of the law.

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