For a variety of reasons, some parents have decided that their children would receive a better education at home than at either a public or private school. Perhaps they’re concerned about the content or qualify of a public school curriculum and/or believe that a private school is too expensive.
Deciding to home-school a child is a very important decision, and shouldn’t be made lightly. There are many practical issues you should consider: do you have the time to commit to teach your child full-time? Do you and your child have the discipline to stick to a rigid curriculum? Can you actually provide a better education that the public schools or a private school? Can you afford the significant financial investment in supplies and teaching materials?
If you’re considering home-schooling your child, you’ve probably already thought about these issues and more.
However, it’s possible that you did not think about one other important consideration: the legal issues that can come up when home-schooling a child. In the U.S., public education is provided almost entirely by individual states, so the laws and regulations dealing with all aspects of education (including home-schooling) can vary widely from state to state. And within individual states, school districts often have a good deal of discretion in how their schools are run, leading to even more variation.
Because there’s no way to cover the education laws of every single state in America in a reasonable period of time, this article will be very general, and is meant to serve as a basic starting point, informing you of some of the legal issues that you need to think about, so that you can then conduct research on how your local system addresses them.
First of all, it’s important to note that courts in the United States have never definitively held that parents have a constitutional right to home school their children, and have given conflicting opinions on this. So, as a practical manner, this means that individual states are more or less free to regulate home schooling however they want.
There is one big exception, however: if home schooling is motivated primarily by the parents’ religious convictions, the Supreme Court has held that parents have a right under the First Amendment to take their children out of public school after a certain period of time, notwithstanding state compulsory education laws. In Yoder v. Wisconsin, the Supreme Court held that Amish parents can take their children out of public schools at age 14, and begin teaching them vocational skills at home, even though there was a state law requiring all children to attend school at age 14.
However, this religious exception is very narrow. In the vast majority of other cases, the government has extremely broad discretion in compelling school attendance. So, in most states, home schooling is very tightly regulated. This is mainly for the purpose of ensuring that children in a home schooled environment are getting an education that’s at least as good as what they could get at a public school. In some cases, home-schooled students will still be required to take standardized tests.
Another thing that parents who are new to home schooling don’t always expect is visits from school officials and social services. They will inspect the home environment, and evaluate the quality of education the home schooled child is receiving. For this reason, it’s important to ensure that you keep complete and accurate records of attendance, performance, and test scores. The state has a strong interest in ensuring that children in home schools get a decent education. It’s particularly important to keep records and transcripts for the high school years, so your child will have minimal trouble applying to college.
This means that the state can regulate what subjects are taught in home schools (in particular, they can mandate that instruction be in English, that basic subjects like English, math, history, science, arts, etc. are given adequate coverage, and other regulation of home school curricula. If you are home schooling for religious reasons, you can still teach your child religious subjects, provided that you also teach the subjects that the state requires you to teach.
One way to ensure that you are teaching required subjects adequately is to use an independent study curriculum from a public school, or an approved program from an accredited private school.
As you can see, there are many different legal issues that you can face when home schooling your children.
This article is not meant to serve as a comprehensive guide to these issues. As mentioned earlier, the laws vary widely from state to state, so if you are considering home schooling your child, it’s very important to check with local educational and child welfare authorities, and possibly speak with a family and/or education lawyer.
John Richards writes for the LegalMatch.com Law Blog and LegalMatch.com. This article is furnished for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice, or an adequate substitute for a consultation with an attorney who has been apprised of the facts of your case.