January 22, 2017

Know Your State Laws

We have discussed hours, grade levels, and when you can homeschool; today let's talk about homeschool laws. Homeschool laws are dictated by the STATE. This basically means the laws I follow here in Illinois are different from the laws that Tina follows (seeing she's in a different state) and might even be different than the laws you follow.  Seeing it's dictated by the state it doesn't matter where in the state you are at it's the same for the whole state.

Ironically, I was in the midst of writing this blog post when laws and what does and does not "count" came up among friends on Facebook. Talking with them actually help shaped this blog post and I came to see that misinformation about homeschool laws seems to stem from 3 main areas, pitfalls.

1. I read somewhere that it was like this...

2. I was told by the (public) school that it was like this....

3. I was told by Sally, a homeschooling mom I love and adore, that it was like this....

Know Your State Laws

I read somewhere that it was like this....

Unless it was from a known credible homeschool advocacy group, regional, state, or national level, anything you are told should be taken with a grain of salt. Even what I have to say should be taken with some caution and you should spend time verifying it yourself. -- I am in Illinois. I have a good understanding of Illinois laws, but I am not versed in the laws of all the various states. Some other states, like Wisconsin, I know pretty well too, but I don't confess to being an expert and always yield, even when it comes to my state, to legal experts when it comes to actual legal advice.

It is very frustrating when homeschoolers say that you have to do this, you have to do that, it needs to be like this -- and then they site the blog post they read, the public school administrator they talked to, the other public school employee they talked to, the ex-teacher they talked to, the homeschooling mom they talked to.  -- pretty much anything and everything but the laws themselves.

It's important to know the actual laws for your state! It's important because it avoids falling into this first pitfall and the following two.

I was told by the (public) school that it was like this....

Public school teachers, administrators, and other supporting staff while may be good people, good at their job, and often well meaning they, like me, are not versed on everything education related and often get it wrong when it comes to homeschooling and homeschool laws. 

Besides, most likely not being versed in homeschooling laws there have been cases where they purposefully lied to homeschoolers too. I'm in Illinois a low regulated state (no standardized testing, no registration, no letter of intent, you submit absolutely nothing to the state) and I have had homeschoolers tell me they had to registered with the state -- that the school handed them that paperwork and told them to fill it out.

I have even known homeschoolers, here in Illinois and in my local community, that has taken their curriculum to the regional (state) education office to have it "approved".  They have done all of this, not because the laws say you have to, but because they blindly trusted the school officials/staff.  The school official they talked said it needed to be done.

Sometimes, the school official doesn't know any different, it was something they were told by their boss, it was something that the last homeschooler did, or it's something they just thought had to be done -- again because they are not versed in homeschooling laws.  Of course, there are cases where they purposefully lied to scare and intimate the potential homeschooler.

Instead of focusing on the purposeful liars, let us just assume they didn't know any different. They were basing their information on the knowledge they do know, how it works in an institutional setting.  Let me share with you a story, while not about homeschooling, how something like this can happen.
I worked in the daycare/childcare field before my kids were born. Daycares come basically in two forms: INSTITUTIONAL (daycare centers) and HOME daycares (a daycare run out of someones home).The daycare I work for, right before my oldest was born, was brand new. Built from the ground up brand new and I was one of the few staff members that was hired on before it even open.  Some of my co-workers were brand new to daycares, never worked in one, others never worked in a center, but ran a daycare home. All were wonderful people and good with children.
I and one of my co-workers would butt heads, often. Our boss would have to intervene and often sided with me. -- not because I was special and could do no wrong, it's just the co-worker didn't understand what was allowed and not allowed. To put it plainly her prior experience was with a daycare HOME. She was well versed on how it worked in a daycare HOME. She knew what she could or could not do in a daycare HOME. Her ideas of what was allowed and not allowed was based on that, the daycare HOME.  
Rules for daycare HOMES are not the same for INSTITUTIONAL daycares (daycare centers). The child to adult ratios are a bit different, what you can and cannot feed children are bit different. It wasn't that she was wrong -- she knew what she was talking about -- but she was applying that knowledge to situation while similar was different.  She just couldn't comprehend it was different now that she was working in an institutional daycare.  The boss would say -- that is how it is in daycare HOME, but in a CENTER we can not do that  ---
I shared that bit of backstory because it's truly is the same for homeschooling and schools.  The rules and regulations for HOME schooling are different than that rules and regulations for INSTITUTIONAL (public) schooling.

Sometimes school officials are just like my old co-worker. They are well-meaning people, but they simply do not know or cannot comprehend that the rules are different. Everything they tell you is based on their experiences and how it works in an institutional setting.

Without knowing the exact situation it's hard to say if the person you talked to at the school was just ill informed, well meaning, and didn't know any better or if they intentionally lied. In either case, it's important to know your state's homeschool laws and not to just blindly trust school officials. Blindly trusting leads us to the next common pitfall:

I was told by Sally, a homeschooling mom I love and adore, that it was like this....

Sally is a wonderful mother and great homeschooler. Heck, you want to be like Sally, she has it all together, her kids are geniuses, her home is organized, she is just a wealth of knowledge and always seems to know it all. She's been homeschooling for nearly a decade or more and has seen it all, dealt with it all, and truly is great! Surely, Sally knows what she's talking about and can be trusted!

I'm sure Sally is great and may be wonderful, but Sally might be ill-informed.  Sally could have gotten her information from a bad source or Sally has a philosophy on how it's supposed to be done and her advice is based more on her philosophy and not what the actual laws are.

Sally all those years ago when she started could have gotten her information about the laws from that public school employee and she blindly followed it. Sally could have gotten her information from another ill-informed homeschooler. Or maybe Sally has some ideas of how it should be and what she does is based on those ideas and philosophies.

I have seen ill-informed Sally the most when it comes to homeschooling diplomas, graduations requirements, and if you need accreditation or not. This doesn't mean you can't trust Sally or use her as a bouncing board. It just means to ask her questions. Ask her where she got her information. Ask her if she knows where you can turn to for more information yourself. Ask her if what she's telling you is based on laws or her philosophies.

Please take the time to really learn and know your state's homeschooling laws. 
  1. Does my state require me to register?
  2. Does my state require me to submit a letter of intent?
  3. Does my state require a min number of days?
  4. Does my state require a min number of hours?
  5. Does my state require me to teach certain subjects?
  6. Does my state require standardized testing?
  7. Does my state have specific graduation requirements for homeschoolers?
  8. I am I allowed to issue my child their diploma? Does high school, legally, have to be accredited? 
Those are just some of the questions you should be asking yourself when looking for your state laws.

Okay, so I get it, Nikki! I need to know my state laws! Where do I go? How do I learn about them?

I'm so glad you asked! Well first, just like you don't want to ask a public school official you do not want to get the information from a public school site. Especially, avoid the state's education department website. Remember, how I said sometimes school officials lie? Well, sometimes the state's education department website lies too.  Those that purposefully lie do so to intimate potential homeschoolers. Other times it's not a true lie, but a misdirect and mislead.  For example on my state's education departments website, you will find registration forms.  My state does NOT require registration, the website states that, but having the forms there does "trick" people into registering.

Instead of using the state departments site you are going to want to get your information from a trusted homeschool advocate group. This group can be local, regional, or national. There are many to choose from!

photo credit: Danny Ayers

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