Advocacy is for everyone. Any concerned parent can become an advocate for homeschooling freedoms. And so can you. This article is the third in a series of steps you can take to become an effective advocate for homeschooling in your community.
Step 3: Know Your Local Policies
- Is your homeschooled child allowed to take classes at the local public school?
- Can he enroll in an extracurricular activity at the local public school, like band or an after-school club?
- Can he ride the school bus to or from his classes at the school?
- If you enrolled him in public school tomorrow, how would they determine his grade level and class placement?
- Does your local public high school grant high school credit for work done in homeschool? What criteria do they use when evaluating homeschool work?
- What special programs or services does your local school offer homeschooled children with special needs?
- How does your local school district process religious exemption claims and mid-year withdrawals?
- What is your school district’s policy on providing tests like the Stanford 9, PSAT, and/or AP exams for homeschoolers?
If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you’re not alone. Most homeschooling parents in Virginia do not know the official homeschooling policies for their local school district. The good news is that this information is fairly easy to obtain, if you know where to look.
What Is a Policy?
A policy is basically a set of rules and guidelines for how your local school district does business. School districts have the right to create whatever policies they wish as long as the policies do not go against state law, ask for more than state law requires, or are not otherwise addressed by state law.
Local policies on homeschooling issues may be formal or informal, written or improvised. Most Virginia school districts today have a mix of formal and informal policies on how to handle various homeschooling issues. Some school districts write their own policies, working with a team of school board members, administrators, and lawyers. Other school districts use prepackaged policy statements written in part or in whole by the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA). Occasionally, homeschooling parents provide input into the policy writing process.
Once a policy is adopted by the school board and formally written down, it must be followed by all the schools in the district. Only the school board can change or get rid of a policy once it has been formally adopted.
If your school district has no formal, written policy on a particular homeschooling issue, then the decisions regarding that issue are left up to the local superintendent or the principal of the school in question. Informal homeschooling policies can be changed at any time, or tailored to fit individual circumstances.
Most school districts have at least a home instruction policy and some sort of part-time enrollment policy (either pro or con), but some definitely go into much more detail than others. Larger school districts tend to have more detailed written homeschooling policies than smaller school districts. A handful of Virginia school districts have no official homeschooling policies at this time.
Locating Homeschooling Policies in Your Community
Every school district in Virginia is required by law to have a policy manual. A typical policy manual is several hundred pages long and includes everything you ever wanted to know about the daily operations of a school district. If your school district has any formal written policies about homeschoolers, it will be somewhere in this manual.
School districts are required by law to make their policy manuals available to the public. Approximately 50% of Virginia school districts now have their policy manuals available online, at their school district website. The policy manual may be found under “School Board,” “administration,” “policies,” or a variety of other places. Many online policy manuals require Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.
If you cannot access the policy manual electronically, try locating a paper copy of the policy manual at your local public library, the library of your local public school, or your local school board office. Some school districts will give out free CD-ROM copies of the policy manual upon request.
School employees and administrators are usually not a good resource for information on local homeschooling policies. They frequently are not familiar with the policies in their school district, and have been known to provide information which is inconsistent with formal policy. Also, phone calls from curious homeschoolers can actually cause school districts to create new policies where none existed before. These new policies may be far less friendly than whatever existed before – and far harder to change.
I Found the Policy Manual. Where Are The Homeschooling Policies?
Every policy manual is unique, and the policies on homeschooling may be hidden in several different places. Be prepared to do a little detective work to find what you need. Homeschooling policies are generally found in one or more of the following sections: Instruction (“section I”), Students (“section J”), School/Community Relations (“section K”), or Education/Agency Relations (“section L”). It’s best to check all of these sections just to make sure.
Most Virginia policy manuals give their policies three or four-letter codes like “JKA” or “IGBC,” with each policy organized alphabetically by section.
Most school districts code their Home Instruction policy as either LBD, IGBD, or IGBH, although there is much variation from district to district.
Most school districts code their Part-Time Enrollment Policy (either pro or con) as JECB.
Some school districts use numbers for their policies instead of letters (policy 7.22 or policy 8-10), in which case the letter codes are irrelevant.
Also check through the sections for “Instruction” and “Students” very carefully, and carefully review the “Attendance” and “Admissions” policies. Short policies (only a paragraph or two) on part-time enrollment or transferring into public school are often hidden in these sections.
Use the index to the policy manual to double-check your findings, but don’t rely on it too heavily, because it is often incomplete.
Don’t forget to check the “regulations” sections, if they exist. The “regulations” may go into much more detail than the “policies.”
Your Mission: Locate the homeschooling policies and regulations for your local school district. Read the policies carefully to learn about how your school district handles homeschooling issues. Make copies of the policies and keep them in a safe place for future reference. Share what you’ve learned withyour family and friends.
Next Step: Know How To Write An Effective Letter Or Email.
Article by Celeste Land. Originally published in the March-April 2006 VaHomeschoolers Newsletter. For more information on Virginia homeschooling legal and political issues, please contact VaHomeschoolers Government Affairs.