• Emily Hess

Let's Get (Homeschool) Legal in PA

I’ve been talking with lots of people recently about how to get started homeschooling, legally, in the state where I live, Pennsylvania.

Every state has their own rules/regulations for homeschooling. Pennsylvania is one of the five most difficult states to homeschool, with more rules and accountability required than 45 other states. If you need help finding information on your state you can send me an email or search the Homeschool Legal Defense Association website at https://hslda.org/content/laws/

I have been homeschooling in Pennsylvania for five years, going on six. Schooling under PA-law is all I know but I haven't found it to be wildly challenging to meet the requirements. So don't be afraid; if I can do it so can you! There definitely can be confusion between the way I (or others in Pa) read the law, the way the school district reads the law, and the way lawyers interpret the law.

Keep in mind, I am not a lawyer and what I say is not intended to be legal advice. State laws regarding homeschooling can change, so keep in mind this was written July 3, 2018.

When I first started to consider homeschool I just wanted a really basic list of what I need to do to get started. I asked some friends and did some internet research, and finally someone suggested contacting my school district. Some school districts are not friendly toward home school families, but I have found mine to be very wonderful to work with for the most part.

I’ve been encouraging friends in PA that if you are considering homeschooling, the best year to test the waters is Kindergarten for one BIG reason. If your child has never gone to school and is younger than age 8 (unless you live in Philadelphia), there is nothing you need to turn in to the school district. If you’ve already registered them for Kindergarten a simple phone call to the school district to let them know they won’t be going is all you need to do.

I highly recommend the website: askpauline.com to anyone considering homeschooling in PA. There you will find samples of all the documents required, as well as explanations for what age you need to start filing with the district, what grades standardized tests are required, the date documentation is due, and much more.

So how do I get legal in Pa?

If you happen to have a teaching certificate you can file as a private tutor, but most of the state will start by gathering together the following documents.

  1. A notarized affidavit. There are samples on the AskPauline website.

  2. Your Educational Objectives for each subject required by PA law. This can be specific or very general. I always lean toward broad, general statements that I reuse every year for elementary aged kiddos. Again, samples can be found on AskPauline.

  3. Medical/Dental Forms. There is always a lot of buzzing about this one on PA-homeschool Facebook groups. Some parents read the law in such a way that the school district has no right to ask for vaccination records. I generally have my doctor check off a few random things about my children, basically saying they have had vision tests/hearing tests/ etc. and he signs it. The second year there was an administration change and they asked for my kids' vaccination records. I was a little irritated about it, mainly because the way I read the law they cannot ask for them, but I don't have anything to hide, and it wasn't a big deal, so I just had my doctor's office fax them to the school district. This vaccination record only needed to be submitted for each child one year, then the statement on the notarized affidavit that they are keeping up with them is acceptable. I also have the kids’ dentist send me a paper stating the last time they were at the dentist that I also turn in. No biggie.

  4. Your High School Diploma – I only had to turn this in the first year, they keep it on file so you don't have to turn it in every year.

Once you have those things in hand, you can send them in to your district or drop them off. I personally like to drop them off, knowing that I handed them to the person they need to get to. You'll get a letter in the mail, usually the next week, confirming that everything is in order, that you are meeting the state's requirements, and giving you the go-ahead to start your homeschool year.

Other legal things to keep in mind. You need to keep a log of required days/hours. Pennsylvania requires 180 school days. I just keep a piece of paper with the dates preprinted and make a check mark for each day we complete with the child's name on it to include in their portfolio at the end of the year. Super simple. It's also important to take a look at the subjects required in each grade to make sure you're touching on them. I have my kids file their own paperwork throughout the school year (usually Mondays they file the week before) into 1-inch binders for each core subject (Math, Science, Language Arts). This makes putting their portfolio together at the end of the year a breeze as they can pull out five or so samples of their work from throughout the school year. There will be an entire post dedicated to putting together a portfolio in elementary school.

Finally, to end the school year one must meet with an evaluator. You can ask your school district for a list of approved evaluators in your area. This was the most nerve wracking part of this whole process for me the first year Anne turned eight. I took my daughters to the evaluator's home, where she looked through each page, each paper they completed, and asked the girls a series of questions about what they liked about school, what was hard, etc. She was not testing them on their knowledge, just simply having conversation. I really appreciated how much she was able to learn about my child and her capabilities in such a short time. The current PA law does not require you to turn in a copy of your portfolio to the school district, but you do need to turn in a signed paper from your evaluator stating that your child met the requirements for that year.

Most of this stuff really isn't a big deal. As a former teacher, a mom, and a US Citizen, I don't find anything offensive or overreaching in what Pennsylvania requires. I am grateful to live in a country where we have the freedom to teach our children at home and instill in them whatever values you hold dear. For me, that means teaching from a Christian worldview. We study a lot of challenging material concerning the world, wars, and atrocities committed by other humans. And yet, we don't lose hope and feel despair, because we know that Christ has conquered the grave, and there is no sting in death for those who hope in the Lord will be joined to Him for eternity!

Go, be bold, have courage and homeschool our next generation!
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