Every prospective homeschooler approaches Virginia homeschooling law with questions, concerns, and a little apprehension. Yet no part of our state’s homeschooling law seems to provoke more confusion or strong emotional feelings as the sections about kindergarten-aged children.
Virginia’s compulsory attendance law (§22.1-254, subsection A) states that all children who are 5 years old on or before September 30 of the school year must attend school. This could include public school, private school, a public or private preschool program, a private tutor, or home instruction.
This means you have 3 main options to keep your homeschooled 5-year-old child “legal”:
- Comply with the compulsory attendance code by either filing a Notice of Intent form with your local school system and officially registering your 5-year-old child as a homeschooler, or by notifying that you are homeschooling under the Approved Tutor provision.
- Send a short letter to your local school board stating that you are delaying your 5-year-old child’s entry into school for a year because they are not ready for school (§22.1-254, subsection H). The following year, you may then register your child as either a kindergartner or a first grader, depending on the child’s academic level and social maturity at that time.
- File a Religious Exemption for your child, stating that the family is “conscientiously opposed to attendance at school” due to “bona fide religious training or belief” (§22.1-254, subsection B.1).
Virginia Homeschooling Law and Kindergarten
Except as otherwise provided in this article, every parent, guardian, or other person in the Commonwealth having control or charge of any child who will have reached the fifth birthday on or before September 30 of any school year and who has not passed the eighteenth birthday shall, during the period of each year the public schools are in session and for the same number of days and hours per day as the public schools, send such child to a public school or to a private, denominational or parochial school or have such child taught by a tutor or teacher of qualifications prescribed by the Board of Education and approved by the division superintendent or provide for home instruction of such child as described in 22.1-254.1.
As prescribed in the regulations of the Board of Education, the requirements of this section may also be satisfied by sending a child to an alternative program of study or work/study offered by a public, private, denominational or parochial school or by a public or private degree-granting institution of higher education. Further, in the case of any five-year-old child who is subject to the provisions of this subsection, the requirements of this section may be alternatively satisfied by sending the child to any public educational prekindergarten program, including a Head Start program, or in a private, denominational or parochial educational prekindergarten program …
… Further, any child who will not have reached his sixth birthday on or before September 30 of each school year whose parent or guardian notifies the appropriate school board that he does not wish the child to attend school until the following year because the child, in the opinion of the parent or guardian, is not mentally, physically or emotionally prepared to attend school, may delay the child’s attendance for one year.
… The requirements of subsection C [pertaining to testing and evaluation of children receiving home instruction] shall not apply to children who are under the age of six as of September 30 of the school year.
Frequently Asked Questions
So, is kindergarten “optional” or “required” in Virginia?
As mentioned above, children in Virginia are required to attend school once they are 5 years old, so you must officially inform your local school system about your educational plans for your 5-year-old child.
However, children are not required to have graduated from kindergarten to attend first grade. Many homeschooled children in Virginia have never officially attended kindergarten.
My child will not be 5 by the September 30 deadline, but I still want to homeschool her for kindergarten this year. Should I file a Notice of Intent with my school district anyway?
You are not required to report to your local school district until your child is 5 years old as of September 30. There is no advantage to reporting to your school district before your child is of school age, regardless of your child’s academic readiness.
However, you may educate your almost-five-year-old at home at whatever grade level you wish, using whatever materials and methods you desire. Next year, when your child is of official school age, you may report her as a kindergartner or first grader, as you think best.
If you choose to send your child to public or private school after this year, you may declare her as a kindergartner or first grader, as you think best. They may test or evaluate her to determine her actual grade placement.
What if I don’t think my 5-year-old is ready for school yet?
According to Virginia’s compulsory attendance law (§22.1-254, subsection H), if your child’s sixth birthday falls after September 30 of the school year, you may send a letter to your local school board stating that your child is not ready for school. This will delay your child’s attendance at school for one year.
What if I just don’t send in any paperwork at all this year, and wait until first grade?
This would be a violation of the Virginia compulsory attendance law (§22.1-254), and could lead to fines or criminal charges against the child’s parents (§22.1-263).
My child has a summer birthday, so she will be a very young 5-year-old in September. Should I enroll her as a homeschooled kindergartner now, or say she “isn’t ready” and wait to do kindergarten until next year?
The answer to this question will vary with each child and each family. Some young 5-year-olds are ready for kindergarten-level work, while others are not. Some of the many factors you may wish to consider are your child’s overall academic level, overall social maturity compared to her peers, and physical size. Many homeschooling families watch their child’s reading readiness closely when making their kindergarten decisions since many options for the end-of-the-year evaluation or testing assume children to be reading by the end of first grade.
Can I still homeschool my child if I say she is “not ready” for school this year?
The Notice of Intent simply informs the school system of your intention to homeschool your child. The “not ready” letter simply informs the school system that your 5-year-old child is not attending public school this year. Regardless of which paperwork you submit, you are free to educate your child in whatever form you choose. Many families educate their young children at home before their fifth or sixth birthday and their first Notice of Intent submission.
Will my child’s academic future be affected in any way if I say he is “not ready” for school this year?
No. Many public and private school parents use the “not ready” reporting option to give their child an extra year of preschool before sending him off to kindergarten. Many homeschooling parents use the “not ready” reporting option for their very young homeschooled children. There is no evidence that these children or their families are stigmatized or penalized for using this legal option.
What if I say my child is “not ready” for school, and then the following year we decide to send him to public or private school. Will there be a problem with him entering school as a first-grader?
Unlikely; at this age, schools tend to place children within their same-age peer group. The school may choose to give him a formal assessment or placement test before placing him in a classroom.
What if I make a mistake and misjudge my child and start him off at the wrong academic level?
You may determine your child’s grade level at any time during his homeschooling career. You always have the option of adapting your curriculum and course of study to reflect your child’s changing needs. You also have the option of having your child repeat or skip a grade if needed.
This information is provided as a courtesy of The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers. It is not intended as legal advice. For legal advice, contact a licensed attorney.
VaHomeschoolers is a non-profit public charity with 501(c)(3) status; your donation is tax-deductible to the extent provided by law.