One of the unexpected, but positive outcomes of the difficulties of the last two years has been the growth in alternative educational programs. Many families are dissatisfied with the public school system, but, because of finances or other reasons, are not able to either homeschool or enroll their children in private schools.

And so, in a very traditional move, they have turned to friends and neighbors for help. Together they’ve formed groups called “homeschool pods,” “homeschool co-ops,” or some other name, in creative attempts to get the best education for their children.

Unfortunately, some of these programs are now getting into trouble, as state and local officials claim that these groups violate either the school laws or daycare laws.

In the last couple of months, I have talked to several group leaders around the country who are being investigated. Whether they are actually leading “homeschool” groups is a question, since homeschool laws vary wildly state to state as far as how much other people can help the parents teach.

How Much Involvement?

While homeschooling is legal in every state, some states define homeschooling as “directed” by the parent, while others require that the parent do the teaching, and many are unclear as to how much the parent must do—as long as the parent is the one who files the paperwork. (See here for more information.)

  • In a western state, a group met in several locations through the week. Due to the state’s restrictive immunization laws, the group did not set up as a private school. A neighbor complained that the group was actually an “illegal daycare,” and leaders were quizzed by a social services inspector about how much participants were being charged and how many adults and children were involved.
  • A homeschool pod was meeting twice a week for an outside play time. A neighbor complained, apparently in retaliation for a property dispute, and the sheriff came out to investigate. He claimed that because the groups had more than seven children there, they would have to get a daycare license.
  • A group of parents who all filed homeschool notices of intent were meeting four days a week. All of the students did a video course together, with one parent (rotating) always on premises. Their city contacted them to determine whether they were actually a private school.
  • A group advertised itself as a “homeschool co-op,” supervised by adult instructors even though no parents were present when it met daily. The city department of licensing claimed it was a daycare, because in that state, the daycare law applies whenever more than three students are being provided care by a non-relative. The group is disputing the licensing determination, but it has changed its meeting plan in the meantime.
  • A neighbor called the police about a homeschool “co-op” that met each day, complaining about too much noise. The police visited and said there were no issues. So the neighbor then called social services, which visited and said the co-op might need to be licensed as a daycare.

Advice to Parents

As homeschool parents, what can you do to make sure your homeschool co-op or support group remains out of legal trouble?

First, the more parental involvement there is, the more likely that the group will avoid problems with both the compulsory school attendance laws and the daycare laws. Almost all of the groups that I’ve talked to who are experiencing difficulty have very little parental involvement, and several of them were basically private schools where full-time teachers were hired and parents were not expected to participate. This is very different from the traditional homeschool co-op, which is a “cooperative” endeavor where the parents teach the classes.

Second, a homeschool group that only meets once or perhaps twice a week for a couple of hours will probably provoke less scrutiny than a group that meets every day for six hours. As I tell people, “the more you look like traditional homeschooling (even though there really isn’t any such thing), the less chance you have of getting a daycare inspector at your church’s door.”

Third, comply with your state laws. Research whether definitions of homeschool, private school, or daycare apply to your support group. Don’t forget that zoning and fire codes may be an issue too.

And lastly, in almost every case, it is a neighbor who calls the police or social services. The more that your group can do to be friendly neighbors, the better your chances of success in helping families homeschool!

HSLDA stands for freedom to homeschool your children. If you have questions about the best way to do that, whether they’re about the law, curriculum choices, or finding a homeschool group near you, please contact us.