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Determining the Legal Requirements for Your School System or Local Government

If you live in a state that requires some type of oversight of your homeschool by the local school system, you will need to figure out exactly what that means for your homeschool. (If you live in a state that doesn't require you to interact with a local school system, consider yourself fortunate and skip the rest of this section.)

Determining the Legal Requirements for Your School System or Local Government

There are several basic ways in which you might be required to be under the auspices of a local school system:

  • Provide standardized tests. In some states, you must file standardized test scores with the local school system (usually with the superintendent's office). Some states allow you to administer these tests yourself while others require that these tests be conducted by a licensed teacher. Certain states only require that you have students take these tests at specific points in the education process and that you maintain the results as part of your documentation. This isn't much of a burden because you should include standardized tests in your homeschool regardless of whether they are required by your state or not.

  • Submit a portfolio. As a means of measuring progress, some states require that you submit a portfolio that documents the results of your homeschool, usually on an annual basis. The local school officials evaluate your portfolio to ensure that your homeschool is providing a proper education to your children. You'll learn about preparing a portfolio, which you should do as part of your normal homeschool documentation even if it isn't required by the state, in Chapter 12, "Documenting Your Homeschool."

  • Report to a school representative. Some states require that you be "supervised" by a local school representative such as a teacher or administrator. Typically, you are supposed to report to your supervisor on a quarterly basis. The idea is that the supervisor will attempt to evaluate your homeschool to ensure your kids are being educated properly. In reality, what actually happens varies dramatically from school district to school district and even among individual supervisors. Supervisors who support homeschooling are likely to be less intrusive than those who "have an axe to grind."

  • Provide periodic progress reports. Some states require that you provide periodic progress reports whether through a local school supervisor or independently. The formats of these reports vary based on the school district under the jurisdiction you fall.

When you determine that your state's legal requirements involve some level of interaction with a local school system, you will need to contact the responsible officials in the school system (typically the superintendent's office) to identify what exactly you need to do to comply with the requirements.

I recommend that you meet with the person that is responsible for overseeing your homeschool as soon as you realize that your homeschool will have some level of oversight requirements. This helps you get the information from the source and starts to establish the required relationship with the proper officials.

To prepare for this meeting, make sure that you review and understand the specific requirements for your state. Identify each requirement individually so you will be prepared to address each with the school officials.

When you meet with the officials, get all requirements in writing so that you have a clear and definitive record of the requirements from the responsible officials. Make sure the specific people you have to deal with are also noted in the requirements. Also make sure that you understand exactly what is expected of you, with whom you need to deal, and when you need to deal with them. If a requirement is presented to you that is not in accordance with your understanding of the state regulations, make sure you get it clarified and that the school officials can prove that the requirement is actually part of state law.

Managing Your Relationship with Local School Officials (if Necessary)

When you interact with local school officials, your attitude will have a large impact on how your relationship goes. While you shouldn't be intimidated by these officials, neither should you be challenging to them. In most cases, overseeing your homeschool is a task that these officials will see as just another task piled on top of too many others. The easier you make it for these officials to satisfy their obligations, the less trouble and interference you are likely to have from them. Be as cooperative as you can and, of course, treat them as you would like to be treated.

Most school officials sincerely believe they are trying to do the best they can to ensure that children, including yours, are being educated properly. So if you can reassure them that yours are, you will be go a long way toward preventing any problems. As the expression implies, the squeaky wheel gets the attention—your goal should be to be as "unsqueaky" as possible so that you limit the attention your homeschool receives. (Not for the reason that you are trying to hide something, but rather that the less time you have to spend legitimizing your school, the more time you have to devote to educating your kids.)

Rarely, you will encounter a school official who is subtly or blatantly hostile toward homeschool. In that case, you are likely to have problems with them. The best way to combat this is to conduct yourself in strict accordance with the legal requirements so that you don't open yourself for attack. Always get things in written form—this will ensure that such officials are more careful about adding to the actual requirements. Make sure you understand all the legal requirements so that you can conduct yourself accordingly. If local school officials get out of hand and start to challenge or impede your ability to homeschool your children, you might need to take legal action against them. This is covered in Chapter 4, "Defending Your Decision to Homeschool." Fortunately, this scenario is unlikely—in most cases, as long as you are reasonable and cooperative, you won't have any trouble with local school officials.

In any case, you should document every meeting you have with a school official. Take notes during the meeting and prepare a formal minutes document of your meeting after it concludes. Generally, you should provide a copy of these documents to the people you met with; should there ever be a question about what actually occurred, your case will be much stronger if you have a trail of documentation backing up your side.

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