Recently, a reader emailed me about the legalities of homeschooling in our state. She is moving to our state from a different state, and wanted the inside scoop. I thought I’d share my take on this issue here, if anyone else is looking around the internet for advice on this subject.
Note: I am not a lawyer. I’m just an experienced mom and this is mom-to-mom advice. If you need legal help, please seek qualified counsel.
First and foremost, I must say that it is as simple as it looks on paper. Here are some of the main things to know about home education and my main advice if you are moving to California anytime soon:
- There really is no “homeschooling” in California. At least, not legally speaking. Legally, there are three options for non-credentialed parents.
- Use a PSP (private school satellite program, where your child is legally a student of a private school). You pay for this service, which is sometimes a very nominal fee, and the school supervises you as the teacher a little, plus often lets you pay extra to join private school activities like choir, band, etc.
- The one our family does — is to fill out an affidavit to inform the state that our home is a private school … a very private school.
- Use a private tutor. The attendance and curricular requirements below still apply, but no paperwork is required. The tutor can be a parent or any other individual; the sole requirement is that the tutor hold a teaching credential valid in the state of California.
- There are also charter schools here that call themselves “homeschool charters.” The children are indeed taught at home, but this legally makes the student a public school student, and none of what I’ll say from here on out applies in that situation.
- Join HSLDA and/or CHEA. I personally only join HSLDA, but I did buy a book on the legalities of homeschooling in California from CHEA when I first started. At the time, HSLDA wasn’t very good about coaching us through the affidavit filing procedure (which is done online and is quite simple), so the book was necessary. These days, HSLDA tends to send out an email that tells us what the best answers are, how much info is too much info, etc. For instance, you never declare a kindergartener. They are not legally required to be in school, and declaring them to the state has some risks and no benefits.
- The affidavit is filed in the first 15 days of October. When you first move here, then, you do … nothing. Nobody reports anything to the state until October; that’s just the way that it works here. CHEA has a page on filing the affidavit. HSLDA has a page now as well. To think we used to have to pay for this stuff! They even have step-by-step instructions linked at the bottom of that page. It is a simple form, filed online, once per year. Click here to fill out the California private school affidavit.
- Make sure you keep a copy of your affidavit. You are required to keep them for a number of years, so you need to have a file of printed copies or a safe folder in your digital files.
- There are some basic requirements for private schools here. (Remember: those of us who fill our the affidavit are each technically running a private school.) HSLDA has a quick run-down available online. I assume here that you will be your own school and file the affidavit — otherwise you do nothing because the PSP school — what we often call umbrella schools — will do this for you. If you want to go the affidavit route, you have to
- Be able to teach
- In English
- Cover the “several branches of study” required by the California public schools
- Keep an attendance record
- File the affidavit in the first half of October every year. That is all.
- Let’s note the study requirements for grades 1-6. The “branches of study” that you must cover are, according to the law:
- English, including knowledge of, and appreciation for literature and the language, as well as the skills of speaking, reading, listening, spelling, handwriting, and composition.
- Mathematics, including concepts, operational skills, and problem solving.
- Social sciences, drawing upon the disciplines of anthropology, economics, geography, history, political science, psychology, and sociology, designed to fit the maturity of the pupils. Instruction shall provide a foundation for understanding the history, resources, development, and government of California and the United States of America; the development of the American economic system including the role of the entrepreneur and labor; the relations of persons to their human and natural environment; eastern and western cultures and civilizations; contemporary issues; and the wise use of natural resources.
- Science, including the biological and physical aspects, with emphasis on the processes of experimental inquiry and on the place of humans in ecological systems.
- Visual and performing arts, including instruction in the subjects of dance, music, theater, and visual arts, aimed at the development of aesthetic appreciation and the skills of creative expression.
- Health, including instruction in the principles and practices of individual, family, and community health.
- Physical education, with emphasis upon the physical activities for the pupils that may be conducive to health and vigor of body and mind, for a total period of time of not less than 200 minutes each 10 schooldays, exclusive of recesses and the lunch period.
- Other studies that may be prescribed by the governing board.
- Let’s note the study requirements for grades 7-12. The “branches of study you must cover are, according to the law:
- English, including knowledge of and appreciation for literature, language, and composition, and the skills of reading, listening, and speaking.
- Social sciences, drawing upon the disciplines of anthropology, economics, geography, history, political science, psychology, and sociology, designed to fit the maturity of the pupils. Instruction shall provide a foundation for understanding the history, resources, development, and government of California and the United States of America; instruction in our American legal system, the operation of the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems, and the rights and duties of citizens under the criminal and civil law and the State and Federal Constitutions; the development of the American economic system, including the role of the entrepreneur and labor; the relations of persons to their human and natural environment; eastern and western cultures and civilizations; human rights issues, with particular attention to the study of the inhumanity of genocide, slavery, and the Holocaust, and contemporary issues.
- For purposes of this subdivision, genocide may include the Armenian Genocide. The “Armenian Genocide” means the torture, starvation, and murder of 1,500,000 Armenians, which included death marches into the Syrian desert, by the rulers of the Ottoman Turkish Empire and the exile of more than 500,000 innocent people during the period from 1915 to 1923, inclusive.
- World language or languages, beginning not later than grade 7, designed to develop a facility for understanding, speaking, reading, and writing the particular language.
- Physical education, with emphasis given to physical activities that are conducive to health and to vigor of body and mind, as required by Section 51222.
- Science, including the physical and biological aspects, with emphasis on basic concepts, theories, and processes of scientific investigation and on the place of humans in ecological systems, and with appropriate applications of the interrelation and interdependence of the sciences.
- Mathematics, including instruction designed to develop mathematical understandings, operational skills, and insight into problem-solving procedures.
- Visual and performing arts, including dance, music, theater, and visual arts, with emphasis upon development of aesthetic appreciation and the skills of creative expression.
- Applied arts, including instruction in the areas of consumer education, family and consumer sciences education, industrial arts, general business education, or general agriculture.
- Career technical education designed and conducted for the purpose of preparing youth for gainful employment in the occupations and in the numbers that are appropriate to the personnel needs of the state and the community served and relevant to the career desires and needs of the pupils.
- Automobile driver education, designed to develop a knowledge of the Vehicle Code and other laws of this state relating to the operation of motor vehicles, a proper acceptance of personal responsibility in traffic, a true appreciation of the causes, seriousness, and consequences of traffic accidents, and to develop the knowledge and attitudes necessary for the safe operation of motor vehicles. A course in automobile driver education shall include education in the safe operation of motorcycles.
- Other studies as may be prescribed by the governing board.
I cut and pasted all of that from the CDE (California Department of Education) website. What I know about our public schools here that you may or may not know is that this is these things are generally covered over the course of those six years of school. For instance, no school covers all of those branches in a day. And most of them only offer health-type study on special days throughout the year. A lot of schools no longer offer “visual and performing arts” because it costs too much. So I would take all of this with a grain of salt. If you are using a thorough curriculum, you will easily cover all of these things inside of the 6 years.Please note: if your child is college bound, I also recommend considering the A-G Requirements, which goes beyond the bare minimum of the law required for high school. See my Notes on Planning Ninth Grade where I discuss keeping pre-transcripts.
- Attendance requirements: You must take attendance. (No one has ever asked to see my attendance sheets, but I take attendance because the law says I must.) Even though there is not a set number of days specified in the law, public schools are required to offer 175 days of instruction each year. HSLDA asks us to try and do this, or close to this, because if they ever had to defend us in a court of law, it’s helpful to show not just that we took attendance on each school day, but that attendance was similar to public schools. The private schools in our area tend to run on the same schedule as public schools, for the most part.
- Maintain a few other records: I took a class on this, and was told the law says I must keep a few basic things in a file: immunization or exemption records (honestly, the law is so muddled now that I don’t know this is accurate as there are no longer exemptions available for homeschoolers as the vaccine laws are now only written for students in brick-and-mortar schools). Keep a copy of your plans for the school year (called a “Course of Study”). Keep an updated list of all your teachers and their qualifications. In the class I took, they recommended just including your own resume and, if you didn’t have one worth speaking up, to write a quick “why I am fit to teach my child” note. As I already said, I’ve been doing this for a long time now and no one has ever looked at my records, but I suppose this is good in case anyone ever wanted to see them.
Does anyone else have anything to add concerning the legal ins and outs of home educating in the People’s Republic of California?
Last updated: 15 July 2020
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