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Homeschooling in Pennsylvania-Introduction

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Prior to the implementation of what is known as the Home Education Law in 1989, families choosing to educate their children at home were required to seek the approval of their school district superintendents. Many were denied this approval. Some families chose to homeschool without notifying the school district, “underground,” while others challenged the districts openly. Some moved from unfriendly school districts to friendly school districts, only to have a new superintendent installed who was “unfriendly” to homeschooling. Others suffered heavy fines. As a result of a class action suit, filed on behalf of home educating families harassed by local school district administrators, the PA State Legislature enacted Act 169-1988. It became effective immediately for those who did not have a pre-existing agreement with their school districts and for the 1989 school year for those already operating with an agreement. Since then, there have been other changes to the law. These are explained on the PA LAW page. The purpose of the MDHSA Booklet “Homeschooling and the Law” is to explain the requirements and pitfalls of the PA Home Education Law. The advice on this website is intended to assist parents, and is based on years of experience in working with a number of school districts in Pennsylvania. It is not a substitute for reading the Home Education Law, which can be found on this site. It is not intended to constitute legal advice. For a detailed explanation of the PA Home Education Law, please click on the MDHSA Law Guide on this website or order a hard copy on the Purchases tab.

Law Summarized

The PA Home Education Law, Act 169-1988, requires that when a child reached compulsory attendance age, or at the commencement of homeschooloing an older child, and thereafter on August 1 of each year, that a parent or guardian (“supervisor”) submits an affidavit and educational objectives to the local school superintendent. The supervisor must have a high school diploma or equivalent and must “conduct school” either 180 days for all students OR 900 hours for elementary or 990 hours for secondary students. A family may not homeschool if any person over the age of 18 living in the home has been convicted of certain criminal offenses in the previous 5 years. At the end of the school year the supervisor must obtain an evaluation of a portfolio of materials from an Evaluator who must also interview the student, review the portfolio, and provide a written evaluation certifying that the student is receiving an appropriate education, defined as “sustained progress in the overall program for the required amount of time.” The supervisor then submits the copy of the evaluation only to the school district by June 30. Please meet with your evaluator early enough that he or she can type up the evaluation and get it to you in time to be received by the school district on June 30. This date is now in the law. Do not turn it in late! Your best defense against loss of freedom is to know what the law requires and to obey it. When requested to provide information about birth dates, Social Security numbers, or any other detail, the home education provision of the school code is clear. Home educating families must provide name of student, age, address and phone number of the home education program, and the name of the supervisor of the home education program.

Step 1—File these items with your school district:

1. An affidavit—See Printable forms on this website:

  • First time homeschoolers: Submit an affidavit BEFORE beginning to  homeschool-any time of the year  (See Law guide for withdrawing from school mid-year).
  • Returning Homeschoolers—Submit to the school district by August 1. (Do not  miss this deadline).

2. A list of objectives for each student—See printable forms tab to download one.

3. Medical Requirements must be met: See the Law Guide on this website for detailed information as to what is required for each grade level, and for religious exemptions or other information. See Filing with the School District, Medical Records and Health Services sections of the Law Guide, and printable forms.

Step 2 – Start to Homeschool!

  • Elementary — 180 days or 900 hours a year
  • Secondary  – 180 days or 990 hours a year
  • If you choose days, there is no required number of hours to constitute a school day. You may “school” any of the 7 days of the week any time of the day.
  • You may start July 1 or anytime thereafter, if you have filed your affidavit
  • As soon as you turn in the affidavit, etc., you may start to homeschool–no approval needed, even if the school district tells you they have to “approve” it. Sometimes the person who accepts paperwork for the superintendent does not know the law.
  • Conclude your “school” in time to get an evaluation in the spring.  You do not have to have every last day completed or every credit completely done to schedule the evaluation.   DO NOT WAIT till JUNE. Call you evaluator in Feb – March.  Schedule it for April or May.

Step 3–Locate an evaluator

  • Call an evaluator EARLY—fall or early winter to see if she has room on her schedule for you. Many fill up early. DO NOT WAIT until May or June to locate an evaluator.
  • Ask her how she does the evaluation and her fee.  Almost all evaluators allow the parent to be with the student. If, rarely, one should not allow this, get another evaluator.
  • The evaluator is only required to determine if the student is making “sustained progress in the overall program.” If you want more from the evaluator, you should discuss that with her before the evaluation.
  • Call the evaluator again about February or March to schedule the appointment unless she made other arrangements with you.
  • An MDHSA diploma program evaluator list is found under the Diploma Tab.  Many of these also evaluate elementary students and high school students NOT in the MDHSA diploma program.
  • 3rd, 5th 8th grade students: Have them take the achievement test early enough to get the results back before the evaluation. Some evaluators start evaluating in April since some families have completed their school year by then.

Step 4 – Create a Portfolio, required by law to be maintained and taken to an evaluator. A portfolio is a box, loose-leaf notebook by subject area, folders, whatever you choose, although a notebook is easiest to flip through at the evaluation. These items must be in the portfolio:

  • Samples: “of writings, worksheets, workbooks or creative materials used or developed by the student” as stated in the law. Sometimes students like to make them fancy, and put pictures or brochures of field trips or a field trip list, in them, art work and then keep them as a keep-sake album, but this is not required by law. It is whatever a family wants to do. The samples of the child’s work are to show “sustained progress in the overall educational program.” Obviously improvement in work through the year or doing more difficult work than in the beginning of the year shows sustained progress. Just put the student’s work in the notebook (or box, etc) as he completes the work and at the end of the year—Voila! You have a portfolio! You can choose to put only his best work in the portfolio from the beginning, middle and end of year!
  • LOG/ Attendance calendar to show that your child was “in school” for 180 days or 900/990 hours to show the evaluator. There are attendance calendars/logs on this website that you may use. You may also just write 1-180 on notebook paper and check it off or use dates, a calendar of your own, etc.  See Printable Forms.
  • Achievement tests—required for grades 3rd, 5th and 8th grades only—Math and Languages arts only. Plan on scheduling these in February or March or at the latest, April, so that you can take the results to the evaluation. See the log guide for testing resources.
  • Log “made contemporaneously with instruction which designates by title the reading materials used”.  This  log is simply a book list of textbooks and  every book used in homeschooling, including books your children read for “school” or “for fun” in bed at night or any other time.

–Tip: Take a sheet of notebook paper and post it in your child’s room or other place where it won’t get lost such as on a clipboard, or in the portfolio  notebook, and you or your child can list each book as soon as he is done reading it. You could also list all the books you hope he will read or bring home from the library, and just check off the ones he actually reads.  Just add it to the portfolio at the end of  the year. Don’t forget to  have another list of  textbooks or other materials used to teach and put that in the portfolio also.

–You may, but are not required to, include in this list other resources used such as videos, games, discussions, field trips, audio tapes.

Step 5-The Evaluation

  • You must take your child AND the portfolio (samples and book list), achievement test results if your child is in 3rd, 5th, or 8th grade, and the attendance log of days or hours to the evaluator.
  • The evaluation USUALLY takes about an hour, some are longer. A good evaluator will try to make you and your child feel comfortable.
  • The evaluator will look through the portfolio with your child and chat about your child’s year.
  • Many parents and students enjoy the evaluation and look forward to it.  An evaluator usually tries to praise the child (and the parent!) for excellent work.  Many evaluators will give suggestions if they feel the parent is receptive.
  • The evaluator must provide you an evaluation letter-some provide it the same day, others mail it to you later. Discuss how this is done before you go!
  • If your student is in a PA diploma program or is getting a PA parent issued diploma an evaluator will need to make sure the high school student is completing graduation requirements according to the homeschool law and/or the diploma program you are using.
  • Some evaluators write long evaluations, some write short ones. This is between you and the evaluator.

Step 6-Turn in the evaluation to the school district.

  • Deadline: June 30, DO NOT IGNORE THIS.  If you turn in your evaluation late, YOU ARE OUT OF COMPLIANCE with the homeschool law. You could put your right to homeschool in jeopardy!
  • Make a copy of the evaluation for the school district. DO NOT GIVE THEM THE ORIGINAL OR YOUR ONLY COPY!   Keep a copy of your own in a safe place, especially if you have high school students.
  • If you take it to the school district, ask for it to be dated and signed by the person receiving it and  a copy provided to you before you leave.
  • You may mail it, return receipt requested so that you have proof that they received it.
  • When you submit the evaluation to the school district, include the affidavit and objectives for the next year; so that you are all set to start homeschooling again whenever you are ready!

Take a deep breath and congratulate yourself! You did it! It will be easier next year!

If you have problems with your school district, contact MDHSA for help: mdhsaadmin@pa.net

MDHSA does not discriminate against families on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin.

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