Act 26 of 2014 substantially affects a district’s authority over home education programs taking place within a district’s jurisdiction. The changes to the law narrow the authority of superintendents’ oversight of homeschooling programs taking place in their respective districts. Under prior and current law, homeschooling programs must provide students with an “appropriate education,” defined in the statute as “a program consisting of instruction in the required subjects for the time required in this act and in which the student demonstrates sustained progress in the overall program.” The changes to the law in Section 1327.1 of the School Code do not change the curricular requirements of homeschool programs (also known as “home education programs”).
The express intent of the changes was to ease the burden of homeschooler compliance with school law. The prior law required parents implementing homeschooling programs (“supervisors”) to submit a “portfolio of records and materials” to the district for the district’s approval. The new law eliminates the requirement of prior approval, easing the burden on homeschool supervisors and removing the district approval requirement. In the future supervisors must only provide certification from an evaluator that an appropriate home education program is taking place. Required under prior and current law these evaluations were conducted by qualified professional educators who review the student’s portfolio and observe the home education program
If a district believes an appropriate home education program is not taking place based on its review of the annual certificate, at any point
during the school year, the superintendent may require an additional evaluation. It must do so by sending a letter by certified mail to the homeschool supervisor, notifying the supervisor of the evaluation requirement based on a “reasonable belief” that an appropriate education is not being provided. The basis for the district’s reasonable belief must be included in the letter. The requirement to provide a basis of reasonable belief is an additional mandate placed on districts by the new law. Under prior law, a reasonable belief was also required for mandating homeschool evaluations, but districts were not required to explicitly state to supervisors the basis for the reasonable belief to compel an evaluation. Therefore, while the bill removes that portion of the district’s burden to review the annual homeschool plan’s entire portfolio, it also places a new burden on districts seeking to compel an evaluation. This additional district requirement will necessitate a careful review of the supervisor’s annually required evaluation/certification in order to meet this new district burden.
Additionally, the new law includes a stay-put provision that allows students to remain in the home education program during the pendency of any appeal. All diplomas awarded by homeschool supervisors at the conclusion of the home education plan shall be recognized as equivalent to those awarded by public schools. It is essential that school districts ensure they are complying with the new homeschooling laws as they differ significantly from the original homeschooling scheme that has been in place for several years. Compliance may require a change in district policies and practices.