The annual legislative session, as well as the preparatory and wrap-up work that come before and after it, represents just part of the work that VaHomeschoolers does to help protect Virginia families’ homeschooling freedoms. We also work with school divisions throughout Virginia to ensure that their policies and practices are up-to-date and in line with the Home Instruction Statute and related components of the Code of Virginia, including the Religious Exemption and the Approved Tutor Provision. VaHomeschoolers has had great success in working on a professional level with school division personnel to promote an accurate understanding of Virginia’s home instruction requirements and to resolve the concerns of homeschooling families.
School Divisions Policy Review Project
Many times, problems are best solved by preventing their occurrence in the first place. With this philosophy in mind, in September 2011 VaHomeschoolers mailed out information packets to every public school division in Virginia. We sent each division superintendent a letter re-introducing our organization and our mission to protect and promote homeschooling freedoms, emphasizing that positive working relationships between local homeschoolers and their public school divisions are an integral part of that mission. Each packet also included a complimentary copy of Voice magazine; a copy of VaHomeschoolers’ new brochure for school divisions and legislators; a supply of our new parent brochures (so school officials can refer parents who have questions about homeschooling to VaHomeschoolers); and our new fact sheets, “Homeschooling in Virginia: Avenues for Legal Compliance” (pdf) and “Quick Reference Guide to Homeschooling in Virginia” (pdf).
In connection with the mailing, VaHomeschoolers conducted a review of the Web sites of every school division in Virginia to examine their home instruction policies and regulations, determine whether or not they allow part-time academic enrollment, and review whether the information they provide regarding homeschooling is accurate and up-to-date. We also examined each school division’s Notice of Intent form, if one was posted on the Web site, to check whether it accurately represented the requirements of the Home Instruction Statute. We created a database of our findings and identified those school divisions whose policies or other materials were in need of revision.
Home Instruction Policies
VaHomeschoolers found that for the most part, Virginia’s public school divisions are doing a good job of creating and maintaining home instruction policies that accurately reflect the home instruction statute. Nearly three quarters of school division policies were up-to-date and in line with the statute. In fact, the majority of school divisions have adopted identical, boilerplate language created by the Virginia School Boards Association for their membership (not every school division is a member).
Of the 132 school divisions in Virginia, we found that the Web sites of 96 divisions, or almost 73 percent, had home instruction policies that were up-to-date and in line with the Home Instruction Statute as it was amended in July 2008. An additional 20 percent (27 divisions) had policies that were outdated or inaccurate in some way—the most common problem being that the policy simply had not been updated to mirror the 2008 amendments. Finally, for a small number of divisions (9 divisions, or 7 percent of the total), the home instruction policies were not available online. (See figure, left.)
Part-time Enrollment Policies
Regarding part-time academic enrollment, VaHomeschoolers’ research indicates that just over half (67 divisions, or about 51 percent) of Virginia’s school divisions permit homeschooled students to take classes on a part-time basis, as allowed by Virginia law. These divisions do receive funding for students who are enrolled part-time; for students taking one class, they receive 25 percent of the funding allotted a full-time public school student, and for homeschoolers taking two or more classes, divisions receive 50 percent funding. VaHomeschoolers found that 55 Virginia school divisions (almost 42 percent) have policies specifically prohibiting part-time enrollment of homeschooled students. In many cases, however, these policies prohibiting parttime enrollment have not been updated for a number of years—sometimes as long as a decade or more. It may be that school boards in some of these school divisions would consider a policy change if the issue were brought to them by parents in their school division. We were unable to locate policies for the remaining 10 divisions (almost 8 percent). (See figure, above.)
As a result of this detailed research project into the policies and materials that Virginia’s school divisions provide on their Web sites, VaHomeschoolers has developed a list of “Homeschooling Best Practices” that we would like to encourage all Virginia school divisions to adopt regarding homeschooling:
- Up-to-date home instruction policy in line with Virginia’s Home Instruction Statute and available for review online.
- Up-to-date NOI form in line with Virginia’s Home Instruction Statute (if a NOI form is provided; no form is required).
- Part-time academic enrollment by homeschooled students permitted.
We have assigned performance reviews for Virginia school divisions based on their achievement in meeting our Best Practices. VaHomeschoolers has identified 46 divisions as “All-Star Divisions,” meaning that they follow all three of our best practices standards (see sidebar, right). We are pleased to recognize these outstanding divisions, and we hope to welcome every school system in Virginia to this list in the near future. Several divisions have told us that they are in the process of revising their policies in response to our recent communications, so we hope they will be on this list soon.
To find out which school divisions made the cut, see: VaHomeschoolers All-Star School Divisions.
Positive Response from School Divisions
Once we identified those school divisions whose home instruction policies, NOI forms, or other homeschooling information were out-of-date, inaccurate in some way, or simply unavailable online, VaHomeschoolers e-mailed superintendents to make them aware of our findings and ask that changes be made. Overall we contacted a total of 46 school divisions in November 2011. To date, the response we have received has been exceedingly positive. Many superintendents (or their staff) responded immediately to our request and posted policy manuals online, updated their NOI forms, or worked with their school boards swiftly to make changes to their policies.
Several superintendents’ offices have taken advantage of our offer of free subscriptions to Voice, so their staffs will be getting a regular view into the interests and concerns of Virginia’s homeschooling families. A few school divisions requested permission to post links on their Web sites to our new home instruction fact sheets, or to print extra copies to provide to homeschooling parents. Overwhelmingly, school divisions have appreciated our bringing to their attention the problems we noted with home instruction policies and materials.
VaHomeschoolers will continue to conduct follow-up reviews and contact any school divisions that have not brought their home instruction policies and materials in line with the home instruction statute and made them available online for homeschooling families. We hope to find no remaining problems or concerns.