As fall 2020 brings the start of a new school year—along with the disruptions and uncertainty of dealing with a global pandemic—many parents find themselves weighing an option they never would have considered in their wildest dreams: homeschooling!
But parents who work full-time aren’t sure how to fit the education of their children into their work-life schedule. So they’re getting creative about who will homeschool. How will that work under the current laws and regulations governing homeschooling?
Parents want to know: “Can someone else teach my child and still call it homeschooling?” and “My neighbor asked if I can homeschool his kids along with mine. Can I do that?”
These families are seeking alternatives to the online instruction and social distancing restrictions being imposed by school districts across the country. And many are especially interested in sharing educational costs and responsibilities with other families by creating tiny co-ops and tutoring pods.
It’s a simple question, but it brings up lots of issues. Let’s talk about some of them.
Issue #1: Education is overseen by the states
Since education is (generally) regulated by each state, homeschooling laws and requirements are also decided by each state. That means every state does it their own way, so there isn’t one answer.
And some states even have several ways that homeschooling can be structured—families can choose the option that best fits their circumstances and objectives.
You’re right, that does start to sound complex, but really, it’s an expression of freedom! Every family and every child is different, so having choices is terrific—you can find what works best for you.
And HSLDA has made it simple to find your state’s requirements in our state law summaries that cover everything from which options are available to you, to what your state’s compulsory attendance requirements are, to how to withdraw your student from public school, and so much more!
Some states: “homeschooling” = parents teaching their own children
For example: Washington, Alaska, and Michigan.
- What about co-ops, ukulele lessons, or a Shakespeare drama group? As long as you are your child’s primary teacher, your child is free to learn from someone else, one-on-one or in groups.
- What if I don’t want to, or can’t be, my child’s primary teacher? You’ll need to explore other options for complying with the compulsory attendance law.
- Does my state offer other options to comply with compulsory attendance? Michigan, for example, says that children can be homeschooled under a “homeschool” (subject to the definition of “parents teaching their children,” or a non-public school, or both).
Michigan’s nonpublic school option allows instruction by “another person chosen by the parent.” When the child’s teacher is not their parent, the state does require certain teacher requirements, annual notification, and other records upon request.
Some states: “homeschooling” = parents + others can teach
The details are important: while a few states allow parents to engage other people to teach their children, in some situations, the number of families who are having their children taught by a shared instructor determines whether or not it’s homeschooling.
What about tutors? Several states permit this option, but they usually require the tutor to hold state teacher credentials and impose certain regulations by which families with tutors must abide. For example:
- Alabama law states that education via a private tutor must occur between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- California mandates that tutors must teach for a minimum of three hours per day, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Pennsylvania requires that tutors must receive a “fee or other consideration."
When does a tutoring situation become a private school? In North Carolina, the law permits two families to homeschool together. Add a third family, however, and suddenly you’re operating a private school.
Similarly, New York State allows for someone other than mom and dad to teach the children. However, if that person is teaching children from more than one family full-time, then in the opinion of the State Education Department, that arrangement is now a private school. And private schools in New York have to comply with their own voluminous regulations.
What about parents homeschooling as a private school? In several states, parents who homeschool are technically operating a private school. Even in these states, though, it’s good to get specific advice from HSLDA—a single family doing schooling in their own home won’t necessarily have to comply with all the private school regulations, such as those rules dealing with health and safety.
Kentucky and Texas are good examples. In both these states, the compulsory education law is pretty much the same for one family homeschooling or for 100 families sending their students to a brick-and-mortar private school. That means, as far as the education law is concerned, homeschooling parents are perfectly free to have someone else teach their children.
Homeschooling families are specifically permitted to band together and form private or church schools in Colorado and in a few other states.
In other places, the laws for homeschooling via private school can get arcane. Virginia, for instance, allows students to enroll in a private school but then study from home, if the student’s at-home schooling is for the same number of hours per day, for the same days per year, and during the same period of the year as in public schools. (Families who choose to homeschool under Virginia’s “notice of intent to homeschool” option have a lot more flexibility.)
Issue 2: Other kinds of regulations
As we already mentioned, many parents who are new to homeschooling this year have talked about forming innovative educational groups, which are being called by various terms, including pods and micro-schools.
While the creativity and determination that families are displaying in coming up with new ways to keep their students safe and learning are laudable—it’s the details of how these groups are formed that could invoke a wide range of other regulations.
Here are some considerations:
What turns a homeschool into a business?
If homeschooling parents pay someone to teach their children, does that constitute a business? If so, do you need to obtain a business license from the local government? Will your instructor be considered an employee or an independent contractor (this is an especially hot topic in California)? The answer to this question affects things like taxes, withholdings, and related topics.
Location, location, location—does it matter?
Where will the students gather for instruction, and how many of them will there be? If you are meeting in private homes, you may need to consult your local homeowner’s association. If your students gather in a church or other building, zoning laws may apply. We know of cases where homeschool co-ops had to stop meeting in churches because they were violating local zoning ordinances.
Is my homeschool pod considered a childcare business?
In some states, homeschool co-ops have been shut down because they functioned like a childcare business but failed to obtain either a license to operate or an exemption from the laws regulating that particular service. Usually these involved co-ops where parents dropped their children off for a class and then left the premises.
What about health and safety?
If enough children gather regularly in certain places, health and safety laws may come into play.
In Ohio, for example, officials recently told one homeschool group that if they continued to have more than five students at a time in their building, they would have to install a sprinkler system. A couple of years ago in Tennessee, a homeschool group meeting in a church set off the fire alarm due to a baking class disaster. After fire-fighters arrived and discovered more than 500 students on the premises, the local fire marshal mandated regular fire drills.
And there are many other possible issues to navigate. Some states require private school students to be immunized. In Pennsylvania, tutors must undergo a criminal background check and then submit the results to the local public school district. In California, except for parents working exclusively with their own children, school employees must be fingerprinted.
If a child in a homeschool group is injured, who is responsible for paying for that’s child’s medical treatment? Will your group need to obtain an insurance policy? (If this question has made you wonder about whether you need insurance, we have some good news: HSLDA has teamed up with NCG Insurance Agency to offer homeschool group insurance solutions for HSLDA members and nonmembers alike!)
Issue 3: Additional Advocacy Group
As you can see, though the idea of homeschooling parents sharing the responsibility of educating their children is straightforward and worth pursuing, the reality of such an endeavor carries many important legal considerations.
HSLDA has decades of experience helping families navigate the homeschool laws in their state—and in defending their right to guide their children’s education. If you’re a member, we encourage you to contact our legal team with any questions about your situation.
We’re also happy to answer questions about your homeschool group, though quite often, the finer points of these queries enter areas of law that are beyond our range of homeschool advocacy—these areas include small-business law, tax law, planning and zoning regulation, labor rules, laws for nonprofits, and many others. When a group’s needs cross into business law, we often recommend that the homeschool-group leaders consult attorneys, accountants, and other professionals who specialize in the issues we’ve been discussing.
We know these are challenging times, and we applaud the efforts by parents to craft innovative ways to educate their children. Together, we can help you figure out where to go to find the specific schooling option that best fits your family’s needs—and
complies with the law