Being a Floridian and an outspoken proponent of homeschooling, I field a fair amount of questions from people who are interested in making the transition but do not understand the Florida homeschool laws and requirements. With the coronavirus restrictions pushing more and more families to consider homeschooling, I figured I would write this up for sake of ease.
It’s not complicated, but I will walk you through what the Florida homeschooling laws look like and what they mean for your homeschool. I’m going to go straight to the statutes and go over them with you one section at a time. Forget what you’ve heard about requirements because a lot of well-meaning moms tend to also give bad advice (sorry).
A home education program is not a school district program and is registered with the district school superintendent only for the purpose of complying with the state’s attendance requirements under s. 1003.21(1). The parent is not required to hold a valid regular Florida teaching certificate.
Not a school district program, and only for the purpose of not becoming truant.
The next section of the law (we’re just going right down the list here) tends to confuse people. There are THREE things, and only three things, you must tell the district (emphasis mine below) when you submit your letter of intent:
(a) The parent, as defined in s. 1000.21, who establishes and maintains a home education program shall notify the district school superintendent of the county in which the parent resides of her or his intent to establish and maintain a home education program. The notice must be in writing, signed by the parent, and include the full legal names, addresses, and birthdates of all children who shall be enrolled as students in the home education program. The notice must be filed in the district school superintendent’s office within 30 days of the establishment of the home education program.
DO NOT give them anything else. You simply write a letter stating you are establishing a home education program, these are the names and birth dates of the children involved, and they reside at xyz address. Sign it with your name and underneath it, “mother” or “father.” THAT.IS.IT.
They do not need social security numbers, grade level, vaccine status/records/exemptions, curriculum choices…nothing. Do not give it to them.
(b) The district school superintendent shall accept the notice and immediately register the home education program upon receipt of the notice. The district may not require any additional information or verification from the parent unless the student chooses to participate in a school district program or service. The district school superintendent may not assign a grade level to the home education student or include a social security number or any other personal information of the student in any school district or state database unless the student chooses to participate in a school district program or service.
Your local district does nothing except register your kids as homeschoolers. Nothing more. They do not get to approve or deny, ask more questions, assign a grade level, or add you to any of their databases, unless you want to use district programs. This is important.
The next section explains what records you are to keep, emphasis mine:
(d) The parent shall maintain a portfolio of records and materials. The portfolio must consist of the following:1. A log of educational activities that is made contemporaneously with the instruction and that designates by title any reading materials used.2. Samples of any writings, worksheets, workbooks, or creative materials used or developed by the student.(e) The parent shall determine the content of the portfolio, preserve it for 2 years, and make it available for inspection, if requested, by the district school superintendent, or the district school superintendent’s agent, upon 15 days’ written notice. Nothing in this section shall require the district school superintendent to inspect the portfolio.
This is super important again. You must keep a log of activities where you write things down as you do them, including a reading list with titles, and samples of work. THE PARENT DECIDES WHAT IS IN THE PORTFOLIO.
There is no mention of keeping specific types of records, teaching certain subjects or topics, using a certain grade level for materials, or doing a certain number of days or hours. The law is vague in this area and this is one of the great things about the Florida homeschool laws, because we all know that children can’t necessarily be pigeonholed into a single grade level across all subjects.
The next part is where the most confusion lies, I think. What do I need to do to prove to the district that we are really schooling our kids? You have multiple options here. I have put emphasis on the most important part:
(f) The parent shall provide for an annual educational evaluation in which is documented the student’s demonstration of educational progress at a level commensurate with her or his ability. The parent shall select the method of evaluation and shall file a copy of the evaluation annually with the district school superintendent’s office in the county in which the student resides.
Again, nothing about grade level or subject, and nothing about age, either. Your child will be compared against himself only, to show he has made progress from the beginning of your school year to the end of your school year, in accordance with his abilities. Kid struggling with algebra? It’s okay if he didn’t master it in a single year.
The second part of this lists the types of evaluation you can choose from:
The annual educational evaluation shall consist of one of the following:1. A teacher selected by the parent shall evaluate the student’s educational progress upon review of the portfolio and discussion with the student. Such teacher shall hold a valid regular Florida certificate to teach academic subjects at the elementary or secondary level;2. The student shall take any nationally normed student achievement test administered by a certified teacher;3. The student shall take a state student assessment test used by the school district and administered by a certified teacher, at a location and under testing conditions approved by the school district;4. The student shall be evaluated by an individual holding a valid, active license pursuant to the provisions of s. 490.003(7) or (8); or5. The student shall be evaluated with any other valid measurement tool as mutually agreed upon by the district school superintendent of the district in which the student resides and the student’s parent.
The first option is called a “portfolio review” and that is what most parents do. Remember that whatever you choose should only factor in the aforementioned requirement of “demonstration of educational progress at a level commensurate with her or his ability.” THAT.IS.IT.
This form from Florida Parent Educators Association is perfect. Don’t give the district more than the law requires. They do not need a whole write-up about your child’s progress, and your evaluator really shouldn’t be doing that anyway – it’s not their place.
Any teacher can do the review as long a they hold a current and valid Florida teacher’s license. You can search local groups, Google it, or ask around. We will be using the Curtis family this year; my aunt did it last year but she moved. If you have a teaching certificate, you can do your own.
(2) The district school superintendent shall accept the results of the annual educational evaluation of the student in a home education program.
The district accepts whatever the evaluator signs off on. Boom. Done.
Now, if your evaluator somehow will not sign off on your child’s progress…find another evaluator. Seriously. This is why:
If the student does not demonstrate educational progress at a level commensurate with her or his ability, the district school superintendent shall notify the parent, in writing, that such progress has not been achieved. The parent shall have 1 year from the date of receipt of the written notification to provide remedial instruction to the student. At the end of the 1-year probationary period, the student shall be reevaluated as specified in paragraph (1)(f). Continuation in a home education program shall be contingent upon the student demonstrating educational progress commensurate with her or his ability at the end of the probationary period.
I don’t expect it is really a problem that kids aren’t meeting the very basic requirement of “educational progress at a level commensurate with her or his ability.”
The rest of the statute goes on to talk about how you can still participate in extracurriculars with the district, Florida Bright Futures scholarship program, dual enrollment, admission to state universities, special ed services through the district, career/technical courses and programs, and various tests and certifications that are normally available to a public school student.
The very last section is important for us and is why I’m so protective of this law:
(13) A school district may not further regulate, exercise control over, or require documentation from parents of home education program students beyond the requirements of this section unless the regulation, control, or documentation is necessary for participation in a school district program.
They are not allowed, by law, to make life more difficult for us.
Summary of Florida Homeschool Laws
So, in a nutshell, this is homeschooling under the Florida homeschool statute:
- Write your notice of intent. This is only required once, and you only need to give names, birth dates, and address(es) of children. Take note of the date you send this in (you send it to your district, and I always send it certified with signature) because this is the date by which your annual evaluation is due.
- School your child.
- Write down activities as you do them (notebook, spreadsheet, special journal, whatever) and keep a reading list.
- Keep samples of your child’s work. Stick them in a file folder or shoebox and make sure they are dated and have the child’s name.
- Do an annual review using the method of your choosing. Submit only the information needed (say it with me now: documentation of “educational progress at a level commensurate with her or his ability”) to the district by your specific deadline each year (send this certified with signature also).
A portfolio reviewer will ask you to select samples that show progress through the year. They do not need to see everything. Choose a couple of samples from each subject or topic from the beginning of the year and then from the end of the year (or, from whenever you started and stopped any given topic). If the child is showing progress, there is no need to fear.
Florida Umbrella Schools
Now, the last thing that gets people confused is the existence of umbrella schools, also called cover schools. The most popular one here in Florida is called Florida Unschoolers. THIS IS A PRIVATE SCHOOL. Under the law, you will be following private school laws, and you will not legally be homeschooling. Of course, you are still completely in charge of your child’s education, but you need to understand the legal distinctions. What is required of you if you use an umbrella school:
- Register your child annually with the chosen school. You will need to submit a birth certificate and a vaccination record or exemption. The “school” does not give this information to the district, state, or anyone else. If you are already using a public school or homeschooling under the homeschool statute, you will need to formally withdraw your child or submit a letter of termination of homeschool program, respectively.
- School your child.
- Submit attendance at whatever interval the school requires. A minimum of 180 days is required by the state.
No portfolios are required, nor is any type of evaluation or testing. This is the big draw to using an umbrella school. But you will need to submit a vax record or exemption (if you are opted out of the Florida SHOTS system, you will have to get back in the system with an exemption in order to use this option) and you will not be protected by the provisions under the Florida homeschool statute.
Florida Virtual School and FLEX
This section will be short. FLVS (and any district-based virtual option) is public school at home, not homeschooling, and I do not even feel the need to give it my time or attention.
FLEX is homeschooling (or private schooling, if you use an umbrella) and your child takes one or some virtual classes through FLVS. You are still considered a homeschooler (or a private schooler) if you use this option.
My Opinion on Florida Homeschooling Options
Since laws are always in flux, I’m just uncomfortable with the umbrella school option, so I don’t recommend it. If they do away with the vaccine exemption currently available, you will be forced into using the homeschool statute unless you choose to vaccinate your child. Likewise, there are more laws for private schools than for homeschools and they are not allowed to intrude AT ALL with homeschooling. Private school regulation is one slippery slope away from whatever they pass for public schools, so again, I’m just not comfortable with it, as much as I despise having to do the eval each year (it feels too much like oversight).
I also prefer not to have ANY crossover with things the district provides, as that is giving up a lot of the privacy currently enjoyed under the homeschool statute. And, as a reminder, any liberty-minded individual should have an issue with potential “school choice” laws allowing for funds to be given to homeschool families for curriculum or whatever else. With those monies will assuredly come restrictions and regulations, and we need to maintain the freedom we currently have. Please do not transition into homeschooling expecting to be paid or get government money to stay home.
Other Homeschool Options
There is one other option that you conceivably have. It’s all new to me but my brilliant friend Ellen has formed a Private Education Association (PEA). It is based on the constitutionality of operating in the private domain versus in the public domain. As soon as she has a website available with more info, I will link it here. If you want to research private membership associations (think Boy Scouts, private drinking clubs, Atilis Gym in New Jersey, and other members-only groups that do not operate under the same laws as non members-only groups), that will help you understand what she’s got going on. There is no specific provision in the education-related statutes, but since the PEA is operating in the private domain, it is not subject to laws governing public domain activities.
Questions, comments, hate mail? Drop a comment below.