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    Home Education

    How to “Homeschool” in California

    May 12, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    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.
      1. 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.
      2. 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.
      3. 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. 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
      1. Be able to teach
      2. In English
      3. Cover the “several branches of study” required by the California public schools
      4. Keep an attendance record
      5. 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: 14 October 2022

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  • Reply Foster Momma July 20, 2020 at 3:56 pm

    Can you elaborate on the risks of filing for a kindergarten student? My son is in foster care. I feel it is imperative that I can prove in a court that my son is getting a quality education at home because it will likely get questioned by members on the case.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 20, 2020 at 4:51 pm

      For that one, I’d call HSLDA and ask for a consult for sure. (Or find someone homeschooling foster kids and find out what they are doing.) It makes sense that you would want to do this. Perhaps going through a PSP (private school satellite program) would help because then you aren’t the one filing the paperwork. What I was told years ago is that some insurance issues can come up if you report Kindergartners, which mostly imply an unnecessary hassle for parents more than anything else. But in your case, it might be *less* hassle.

  • Reply Nicole July 15, 2020 at 3:03 pm

    So I see this is 9 years old. I know someone who is trying to figure out California laws for homeschooling this coming year. Is this still pretty accurate for how it’s done? It makes it a little easier to understand than HSLDA did. Thanks!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 15, 2020 at 4:05 pm

      Hi Nicole!

      Very little has changed in all these years, but I just went through and updated the post to reflect what I know is good practice and also laws regarding high school. I didn’t have any high schoolers when I wrote this, but now I’ve graduated one and have another this year, so I feel like I can speak to it confidently. There are a number of record-keeping requirements I added based upon a class I took 5 or 6 years ago, but honestly? I’ve never needed to use them except to help me build high school transcripts for college applications! When I fill out my affidavit every October, I usually check this post from HSLDA, which has some helpful guidance on how to answer some of the trickier questions.

      If you have any questions, just let me know. I’m happy to help. 🙂

      • Reply Nicole July 15, 2020 at 4:31 pm

        Thank you so much! I’m on the other side of the country (and our requirements are pretty lax here in SC) so CA laws felt a little overwhelming.

        • Reply Lynette July 29, 2020 at 7:59 pm

          Ha! I moved to SC last year and found the laws very intimidating!! And then I learned they only look intimidating on paper. 🙂

  • Reply Monique Laura May 16, 2017 at 4:01 pm

    This FANTASTIC Brandy. Thank you for posting this. I have a question. My son is a special needs student. He may no be ready until 7 or 8 to begin formal academics. The Board of Ed says that I need to provide an education beginning age 6 for Grade 1. What do I do if my son is not ready until 7 or 8 to begin Grade 1?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 16, 2017 at 4:08 pm

      I will tell you what I did, but it would probably be worth it to contact HSLDA and get their advice — I really don’t know that what I did was the “right” way. 🙂

      So my youngest was delayed due to a hearing problem as a toddler. I knew I needed to delay him a year. What I did was fill out the affidavit for first grade when he was first grade age. I then did developmentally appropriate (meaning behind grade level) activities with him. I never asked him to narrate, but had set read aloud time. I did what he was able to do in terms of math and reading. He did zero writing.

      The next year, I filled out the affidavit again — I put him back in 1st grade. That time, we did true first grade work.

      Since the affidavit make us a private school, I tried to think of it from a school perspective — he needed to repeat 1st grade. No big deal. 🙂

      Maybe that helps?

      • Reply Monique Laura May 17, 2017 at 8:04 am

        That is GENIUS. Your tips are invaluable Brady. Thanks for all that you share with us.

  • Reply Silvia May 15, 2011 at 1:31 am

    Kelly, I did not know. Sorry for extending humidity to all Texas in my ignorance 🙂

    Brandy, I think exactly like you. When I started this journey, I did it re-actively as you said before. Now I do it proactively, and though in the beginning I do not know what we would have done had we lived in a country as Spain, or maybe even a different state, now after taking this route we have gotten rooted in our God given right to educate in all aspects (physical, emotional, intellectual, and SPIRITUAL), our girls. And as you say, Texas truly understands that right. Governor Perry said that exactly, children have the right to an education, but school do not own the right to educate our children, but parents do. And, by the way, that is seen as very radical in secular societies as Spain. While they crave our freedoms, they have a hard time understanding that they rest on absolutes or fundamentals, and that God is still at the head. They believe that to be an extreme right position, sectarian, and christian fundamentalist. That is why in my opinion they have a tough time getting a better atmosphere for those who want to educate without schools.
    In addition, those who started homeschooling are very radical, sort of a bit anarchist minded. We are in a sense outside the system, so to speak, but here in America, we have a tradition that backs us up, there, though homeschooling always existed for some, since the proliferation of public education, and now with a socialism bordering national socialism, any outside Daddy State have a super hard time. Only in the more European section of Spain, Catalunya, homeschooling enjoys a bit more freedom. But Portugal, our neighbors, accepts “ensino domestico” (home instruction). We also ponder why the ex dictatorship countries (Germany, Spain, and in America, Chile), are those who have the hardest laws, or no laws and an organic constitution that they interpret against homeschooling.
    Sorry for the dissertation, it is something of interest to me and I have never had an audience! ha ha ha.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts May 14, 2011 at 11:10 pm

    Texas sounds dreamy… 🙂

    I think that, generally speaking, most states would be greatly improved simply by acting a little more like Texas.

    Personally, I don’t find the CA law intimidating except for the PE requirements. Those sort of freaked me out at first because it said that “recess” didn’t count. My children run and jump and climb all day long, but I was afraid that didn’t count.

    But even thought I don’t find the law imposing, nor has it changed how I do things, I do question the right of the state to interfere with the God-given right of the parents to determing what sort of education is best for their child.

    But that is a political disagreement, I suppose…

  • Reply Kelly May 14, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    West Texas isn’t humid — we lived in San Angelo — and it’s also one of the friendliest places we ever lived. 😀

  • Reply Silvia May 14, 2011 at 9:06 pm

    Mystie, humid is an understatement.

    I believe there are advantages to a more structured follow up of homeschoolers,(I just do not like to call it control, ha ha ha). If you are committed, you find the way and ascribe to all necessary rules as you said the qualifying modes are not that out of the ordinary, and also I am glad the law understands some of the different instruction or teaching ways. (Some here in Texas give their children the SAT because they want to see where they are or would be, and it is not what I would say cheap!)

    But I admit living here where nothing is much enforced or needed, other states legislation makes me nervous. I guess it is one of those of you go through the needed steps if necessity pushes you to do it.

  • Reply Mystie May 14, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    Way to go, Texas! That’s awesome.

    Too bad it’s humid down there.

    We in Washington State have to file an “intent to homeschool” form each year and administer a standardized test (Iowa Basic or Stanford Achievement Test) each year for students 8 and up. But we don’t have to do anything with the test or results but file them in our own records so they are there if they are needed. If you want to enroll in a public school they will ask for the child’s most recent test results.

    Technically the law gives a recommendation for covering the basic subjects and having a comparable number of school days but the end of the law reads as follows: “The legislature recognizes that home-based instruction is less structured and more experiential than the instruction normally provided in a classroom setting. Therefore, the provisions of subsection (4) of this section relating to the nature and quantity of instructional and related educational activities shall be liberally construed.”

    Technically, also, the homeschooling parent has to be deemed “qualified,” which is very officious. There are four ways to qualify, and almost anyone can, but it’s bureaucracy.

  • Reply Silvia May 14, 2011 at 11:46 am

    since we don’t register them, I meant

  • Reply Silvia May 14, 2011 at 11:45 am

    I’m in homeschool heaven… Texas, that is.

    Californian law sounds intimidating to me, in the best case discouraging, and maybe even hindering to follow your own principles in your homeschool, but a bit rigid, however, if there is a want, the saying goes…

    We are also considered private schools, but the paperwork is NONE. We are the only state without a census of the number of homeschooled children since we do not registry. They estimate how many by the homeschooling organizations, and the number is very conservative since many do not belong to any group either.

  • Reply Kansas Mom May 14, 2011 at 3:06 am

    I think Kansas is pretty easy myself. We are also a private school. We have to register as such, but we do not have to say how many students or which grades or even update the form unless our address changes. We have only to provide “class” for a set of time equivalent to the public schools. It’s a bad way to measure just about anything, but it’s easy to record and provide if anyone ever asks. As far as I know, no one has ever asked.

    That being said, we lost three weeks when I was sick and I intend to make up the time now even though I want very much to be done for the summer.

    I choose what counts as school-time, by the way. If we enroll in swimming classes, it’s definitely going to count.

  • Reply Kelly May 13, 2011 at 10:34 pm

    My favorite state to homeschool in was Texas where you…

    get ready for it…


    That’s it.

    No paperwork, unless you’re pulling your kids out of public school, and then all you do is tell them you’re homeschooling, and that’s the end of it.

  • Reply Mystie May 12, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    Interesting. I admit I’d tend to be unschooly on paper if I had to keep attendance. 🙂

    However, here in WA we have to give a standardized test every year. We don’t have to file the results or turn anything in, but we have to do it and keep it in our own files.

    May our options stay as free in both our states!

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