When families in North Providence, Rhode Island, filed their annual notice of intent to homeschool this year, they received a surprising response: a public school registration packet, which they were told to complete.

Due to the explosion of home-based public school programs this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I initially thought there must be some sort of a mix-up.

With so many logistics to work through, perhaps the public school mistakenly thought these parents had opted for home-based instruction instead of what they were actually trying to do: create a private homeschool program.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a mistake. When the families clarified that they were going to teach their children privately, the school again said they needed to supplement their notice of intent with a public school registration form.

When one family reported that a school official had come by their home to drop off a hard copy of the form, we feared that trouble was brewing.

Confusing Request

Rhode Island is one of two states that still require approval of homeschool programs by the local school committee. But registration with the public schools is not a requirement in Rhode Island’s homeschool statute—or in any state’s homeschool law, for that matter.

There are several good reasons for this.

For one, public schools and homeschools are separate legal entities. While the law requires parents to provide notice to their public school district before they begin homeschooling, it makes no sense to have parents register their children in a public school when they have no plans to attend that school.

For another, the statute that governs homeschools also governs “traditional” private schools. So far as we know, no private school students in Rhode Island are required to register in their public school first, and the same should be true of homeschooled students.

We engaged a local attorney in Rhode Island to represent these families. After presenting our concerns to the school district’s attorney, the school withdrew their demand that homeschooling parents complete the registration form. The families’ notices of intent were sent to the school committee, which then approved their homeschools.

This school year has already produced a number of unique challenges to homeschooling. While this story had a happy ending, HSLDA continues to monitor similar situations around the country to ensure that your homeschool freedoms are safe.