New guidelines for public schools in Florida should help prevent a strange and troubling error that affected several families last fall: the mysterious disappearance of their properly submitted homeschool records.

In October 2021, we reported how an HSLDA member family in Charlotte County was threatened with the termination of their home education program when school officials lost their most recent annual evaluations. Around that same time, another member family in Alachua County was informed that a “new file” was needed for their son because more than three years of homeschool paperwork had been lost.

These situations prompted me to take a closer look at Florida law and what the Office of Independent Education and School Choice within the Florida Department of Education had to say about the issue of homeschool paperwork that is submitted to local school officials.

Easy to find: What the law requires homeschool parents to do

As most homeschool parents in Florida quickly learn, when you choose to establish a home education program (as opposed to going under a Florida private umbrella or cover school to homeschool) Florida Statutes § 1002.41 requires you to submit a notice to your local school officials within 30 days of establishing that program.

Florida law lays out exactly what you are required to provide in your notice and in the annual evaluation. It also directs parents to maintain a “portfolio of records and materials” on their child’s home education program.

Gathering the pieces: What the law requires school officials to do

Florida law requires the district school superintendent to immediately register the home education program, but doesn’t mandate what school officials must do with the homeschool records they receive.

To understand the duty of local school officials when it comes to homeschool records, it is necessary to look to the Florida Department of State and the guidance they have provided to public schools in the maintenance and protection of these records. In their General Records Schedule GS7 for Public Schools Pre-K and Adult and Career Education document, last revised in 2019, they specifically mention “Home Education Program Records.” This section states:

This record series documents parents’ intentions to establish and maintain or terminate a home education program. Section 1002.41(1)(a), Florida Statutes, requires parents to notify the district school superintendent of the county in which the parent resides when the program is established and when it is terminated. The series may include, but is not limited to, registration forms; termination forms; test scores; correspondence; copies of student transcripts; annual educational evaluation required by Section 1002.41(1)(c), Florida Statutes, Home education programs; and other supporting documentation. Information provided on the forms include parent and student names, address, phone numbers, date of birth, student’s last school attended, grade level completed or attended, and parent’s signature.

The Florida Department of State requires that all these records must be retained by the school district for four years after completion or termination of the home education program.

Last piece of the puzzle: Clarifying school officials’ duties in state FAQs

But after looking at the home education Frequently Asked Questions and Answers published by the Office of Independent Education and School Choice, I realized that this specific guidance about how to maintain homeschool records was missing.

I emailed the director of Virtual and Home Education proposing a couple amendments to the answers in the FAQs. The most notable change I recommended dealt with the section that read, “[i]t is in the best interest of the student for the district to maintain home education records until the completion of high school.”

The Florida Department of Education quickly agreed to change their answers in the home education FAQs, and the answer to No. 20 now clearly states, “The district should maintain home education records at least four years after the completion (or termination) of the home education program.”

We hope that this will make it easier for local school officials to follow Florida law and greatly reduce vanishing paperwork. As always, we will continue to defend our member families when they face challenges to their homeschool program and help point out to local public school officials what state law actually says!