I like to say that I got to try every type of school when I was a child. I attended a private preschool, private religious school (K-5), a private accelerated school (6), homeschooling (7-8), a public school (9-12), and then college, which is like boarding school. After attending all those schools, I must say that homeschooling was by far my best education experience.
I started the school day when I pleased (normally 9 AM) and finished my schoolwork when I finished it (normally by noon). That left the remainder of my day to work in the family business, visit with my friends and family, attend events around town, and participate in “after-school” activities without feeling rushed or stressed. In my academics, I was able to briskly move through three years of math in those two years because it was my favorite subject. I was also introduced to formal logic for the first time, which ended up being my passion and concentration in college. And I was able to practice my digital design and computer programming, which ended up being a large part of my profession.
As of the 2007 census, approximately 2.95% of students are homeschooled. This is an increase of 0.79% since the 2003 census.
Even though homeschooling itself can be quite easy for the college-educated parent, there are still several state hurdles you must jump over in order to legally remove your children from the compulsory school system. And sadly, the homeschooling rules vary from state to state.
My state, Virginia, is considered relatively homeschooling friendly. Here are the rules according to the Virginia Department of Education.
Virginia Homeschooling Requirements
First, compulsory school attendance begins “when the child has reached his 5th birthday on or before September 30 of any school year and has not passed his 18th birthday.” This means that even though I see myself as “homeschooling” my two-year old for preschool, I do not need to tell the state about it. They don’t care about her education until she is five years old.
Second, the department states, “Home instruction or home schooling is one alternative to school attendance and parents may home school ‘when the requirements of § 22.1-254.1 of the Code have been satisfied.'” Those requirements are that you provide the school division with four things and then there is a fifth requirement just to keep in mind.
1. Evidence of having met one of the criteria for providing home instruction
There are four ways you can meet the criteria for providing home instruction. They are:
Option I: The parent holds a high school diploma or a higher credential.
Option II: The parent meets the qualifications of a teacher as prescribed by the Virginia Board of Education.
Option III: The parent provides the child with a program of study or curriculum which may be delivered through a correspondence course or distance learning program or in any other manner.
Option IV: The parent provides evidence that the parent is able to provide an adequate education for the child.
I would imagine that most parents trying to homeschool meet Option I because they have a high school diploma. However, whichever criteria you satisfy you need to attach a copy of the documentation that you are qualified.
2. A notice of intent to home instruct (DEADLINE: August 15 or 30 days after entering the county)
From the age 5 until the age 18, each year you homeschool you are required to provide a “notice of intent to home instruct.” This letter must be submitted annually to “the school division superintendent by August 15.”
You can find your school division’s contact information on the Virginia School Division Directory. Here is the page for the Albemarle County schools. The VA Education Department provides a “Sample Notice of Intent to Provide Home Instruction” on in their homeschooling article.
This is simply a “I am providing notice of my intention to provide home instruction for this coming school year for the children listed” along with your child’s name, birthday, and grade level.
3. A list of the subjects to be studied for the coming year
There are many different homeschooling philosophies and methodologies . Even having only one child right now, I recognize that because each parent is different and each child is different, the best child rearing philosophy is ultimately different for each combination of family members.
Alas, the state officials treat home schoolers as though they are just traditional education but at home. Luckily, the Home Educators Association of Virginia has a very helpful guide for how to fulfill this requirement .
As they say in that guide:
The description is now limited by law to a list of subjects to be studied during the coming year. Examples of subjects could include math, algebra, geometry, history, world history, American history, handwriting, science, biology, physics, language arts, grammar, composition, British literature, music, art, rhetoric, Latin, foreign language, macroeconomics, etc.
If you have submitted a list of subjects to be studied along with the information on your Notice of Intent, you have properly notified the superintendent. The law does not require you to inform the superintendent’s office concerning any changes you make to your educational plan once the school year has begun.
The parent is required to supply a list of courses to be studied for the upcoming year. Neither the superintendent nor his designee is given the authority to “approve” or “disapprove” a parent’s curriculum choices. They do not have authority to take action concerning your curriculum, and they cannot make any judgments on the subjects you plan to teach, on the content of those subjects, or on the type of curriculum and instructional methods you choose to employ in teaching those subjects.
In other words, only a subject list is required, you can change your mind later, and no one can disapprove of the list you provide.
This should take some of the pressure off of this requirement.
4. Evidence of academic progress at the end of the school year by August 1.
On this topic, the department gives two options:
Option 1: Evidence that the child has attained a composite score in or above the fourth stanine on any nationally normed standardized achievement test; or an equivalent score on the ACT, SAT, or PSAT test;
Option 2: An evaluation or assessment which the division superintendent determines to indicate that the child is achieving an adequate level of educational growth and progress, including but not limited to:
- An evaluation letter from a person licensed to teach in any state, or a person with a master’s degree or higher in an academic discipline, having knowledge of the child’s academic progress, stating that the child is achieving an adequate level of educational growth and progress; or
- A report card or transcript from a community college or college, college distance learning program, or home-education correspondence school.
Here is a list of Standardized Test Options and the differences between them from the Home Educators Association of Virginia (HEAV).
Bonus 5. Immunization
It is important that just because your child is home educated does not mean that they are exempt from other compulsory rules such as the immunization requirements.
Elsewhere, the Virginia Code states:
In addition to compliance with the requirements of subsection B, D, or I of § 22.1-254 or § 22.1-254.1, any parent, guardian or other person having control or charge of a child being home instructed, exempted or excused from school attendance shall comply with the immunization requirements provided in § 32.1-46 in the same manner and to the same extent as if the child has been enrolled in and is attending school.
Although you do not have to provide your child’s immunization record to anyone right away, you need to have it on hand in case someone asks for it.
Currently, the referenced Code in 32.1-46 states:
The Board’s regulations shall at a minimum require:
1. A minimum of three properly spaced doses of hepatitis B vaccine (HepB).
2. A minimum of three or more properly spaced doses of diphtheria toxoid. One dose shall be administered on or after the fourth birthday.
3. A minimum of three or more properly spaced doses of tetanus toxoid. One dose shall be administered on or after the fourth birthday.
4. A minimum of three or more properly spaced doses of acellular pertussis vaccine. One dose shall be administered on or after the fourth birthday. A booster dose shall be administered prior to entry into the sixth grade.
5. Two or three primary doses of Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine, depending on the manufacturer, for children up to 60 months of age.
6. Two properly spaced doses of live attenuated measles (rubeola) vaccine. The first dose shall be administered at age 12 months or older.
7. One dose of live attenuated rubella vaccine shall be administered at age 12 months or older.
8. One dose of live attenuated mumps vaccine shall be administered at age 12 months or older.
9. All children born on and after January 1, 1997, shall be required to have one dose of varicella vaccine on or after 12 months.
10. Three or more properly spaced doses of oral polio vaccine (OPV) or inactivated polio vaccine (IPV). One dose shall be administered on or after the fourth birthday. A fourth dose shall be required if the three dose primary series consisted of a combination of OPV and IPV.
11. One to four doses, dependent on age at first dose, of properly spaced pneumococcal conjugate (PCV) vaccine for children up to 60 months of age.
12. Three doses of properly spaced human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine for females. The first dose shall be administered before the child enters the sixth grade.
D. The provisions of this section shall not apply if:
1. The parent or guardian of the child objects thereto on the grounds that the administration of immunizing agents conflicts with his religious tenets or practices, unless an emergency or epidemic of disease has been declared by the Board;
2. The parent or guardian presents a statement from a physician licensed to practice medicine in Virginia, a licensed nurse practitioner, or a local health department that states that the physical condition of the child is such that the administration of one or more of the required immunizing agents would be detrimental to the health of the child; or
3. Because the human papillomavirus is not communicable in a school setting, a parent or guardian, at the parent’s or guardian’s sole discretion, may elect for the parent’s or guardian’s child not to receive the human papillomavirus vaccine, after having reviewed materials describing the link between the human papillomavirus and cervical cancer approved for such use by the Board.
There are many reasons to consider homeschooling. Luckily, if you do pursue the option, you don’t have to do it alone. In my own town of Charlottesville, there are many homeschooling cooperatives which seems to hide in plain sight. Here is one list of “Charlottesville Area Homeschooling Resources.”
Furthermore, there are many online curriculum programs which have ready-to-go courses. In this way, I was able to essentially homeschool myself in middle school using Standford’s online Education Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY) program for math and logic and Keystone National High School courses for science and literature.
Nowadays though, you can learn almost anything through self-study with Internet searches or from some of the best teachers in the country on YouTube all for free. Plus, the act of learning how to teach yourself is itself a valuable skill to learn.
In the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Congress expanded 529 accounts to include elementary and secondary education expenses up to $10,000 in expenses per student per year incurred “in connection with the enrollment or attendance of the designated beneficiary of the trust as an elementary or secondary school student at a public, private, or religious school.” Although this amendment originally proposed explicitly including homeschooling at the federal level, the final code did not adopt this change. The federal code defines the word “school” as “any school which provides elementary education or secondary education (kindergarten through grade 12), as determined under State law.”
Thus, whether homeschooling counts as a “school” for the purposes of 529 reimbursement is a state by state decision. Although in some states homeschooling operates under the same law as private schools, that is not true in Virginia. There may be some opportunity to open your homeschooling operation as a private school, which would then allow expenses be paid for by 529 accounts, but the legal requirements are a large obstacle.
Photo by Stephen Andrews on Unsplash