by Katie Julius
Take a deep breath in. Hold it. Now, exhale.
As we sit in our homes this summer watching the news and social media for word of what school will look like this fall (with a seemingly different answer each week), it can be frustrating, daunting, and exhausting all at the same time. This is true even for those veteran homeschoolers who are so used to participating in co-ops and extracurricular activities that are open one day and closed the next.
We’ve been stressed and on edge since mid-March and if you’re like me, you just want answers and to have something that’s certain this fall.
So, before the panic continues, take a deep breath and let’s dive into this homeschool thing, step-by-step.
YOU CAN DO THIS
Contrary to what society has taught us about who is capable of teaching (hint: you don’t need a degree), as the parent of your child, you ARE capable. That is the only qualification you need. God gave you your children and with that comes the biblical mandate that you are responsible for the education and upbringing of your children (Prov. 22:6, Deut. 11:19). God is not going to give you a responsibility that you are not capable of handling! He will equip you. Parents have been educating their children for centuries; it’s only within the last century and a half that government schools have taken over that role. I expanded more on this topic in a blog post in Spring 2019 that you can read here. You can also talk to almost anyone who has homeschooled their kids – you’ve got this!
KNOW THE LAW / YOUR OPTIONS
Before you begin homeschooling, it’s important to have at least a basic understanding of the laws in California that allow private home education to happen. To start, all children ages 6-18 (as of September 1) are required to attend public school. This is called compulsory education. You may have noticed that 5-year-olds are not required to attend school. So that means, if you have a child who is not in that 6-18 age range, you do not have to enroll them in school. You can still do educational activities with them and read to them, but you do not have to enroll them in school. Now, if you DO have a child in the 6-18 age range and you don’t want them in public school, there are exemptions to compulsory education.
Secondly, it’s important to note that “homeschool” is not a legal term or option in the state of California. The way the laws are set up, all students are either enrolled in a public school or a private school. Under each of those categories, there are classroom based, hybrid, and non-classroom based options. Most private homeschooling families use either the PSA or PSP option.
Filing a Private School Affidavit (PSA)
Using this option, you are establishing your own single-family private school in your home with your children as its only students. As a private school, you determine the course of study (what they’re learning), your school calendar (you can school on the weekends, at 7:00 at night, on Christmas Day!), and all other educational decisions – and you do not have to “answer” to anyone in the form of submitting work or meeting with a teacher.
You DO need to file the affidavit form with the California Department of Education annually between October 1-15. If you are starting a new school this year, that does not mean you need to wait until then to start school. The form does not establish your school. YOU establish your school when you start instruction. The form is only notifying the state that your school exists.
If the form seems overwhelming at first glance, don’t worry! It’s not as daunting as it looks. It takes about 10 or 15 minutes to complete. If you’re worried about giving the wrong information, CHEA has several resources to help: a step-by-step guide on our website (it will be updated for the 2020-2021 school year when the filing period opens on October 1) and a virtual PSA Filing Party where we walk you through step-by-step and answer your questions along the way. At the end of the “party,” you will have completed and submitted your PSA!
Enroll in a Private School Satellite Program (PSP)
If you aren’t comfortable going it on your own, want a built-in community, or seek some anonymity, enrolling in a PSP may be a good choice for your family. A PSP can be part of a campus-based private school or it can be a stand-alone non-campus based private school. What each of these schools offers varies greatly as does the cost to enroll. Some have very nominal fees in exchange for keeping your records and offering parent-led activities while others can charge hundreds of dollars and in addition to keeping your records, offer classes, field trips, activities, and more. The level of oversight and requirements will vary with each school. It’s important to find out exactly what is expected of you as the parent-teacher before enrolling your children. CHEA has a resource to help you in selecting the right homeschool group.
There is a third option for exemption from compulsory education, and that is to hire a credentialed teacher to teach your student. This is typically seen in the entertainment industry or elite athletics. There are very specific requirements about when school can occur, how many hours must be complete, the subjects taught, etc. CHEA typically recommends that parents who hold a teaching credential file a PSA for more freedom than this option offers.
A Word About Non-Classroom Based Public School Options
There are Independent Study Programs available through both traditional public school districts and public charter schools. Since they are public school options, they are required to follow state standards, provide non-sectarian instruction, and you do check in with a teacher periodically. The level of accountability and responsibility for the student/parent varies greatly. We invite you to read more in depth information about Public School at Home programs in this blog post. These may or may not be an option this fall due to education budget cuts.
For more information about the Options in Homeschooling in California, check out this publication.
WITHDRAW YOUR STUDENT
So, once you have determined which option you are going to use for the fall, it’s time to withdraw your student from their public school. If you have enrolled your child at a public school, you will need to submit a letter from you, as the parent, notifying the school that you are withdrawing them. This is true even for kindergarteners who haven’t attended a day of school yet. If you completed the paperwork to enroll them, you need to unenroll them or you will begin receiving calls from the school wondering where your child is.
CHEA recommends that you compose a letter and sign it before sending it certified mail to your school. This will provide a paper trail for you and give you proof that the school received the notice. A sample letter to withdraw your student is available here. No matter which alternate option you choose for the fall, you will need to send this letter to your school if your student will no longer “attend” your current school (whether public or private). As mentioned above, “homeschooling” is not a legal educational term in California. For this reason, CHEA strongly suggests that you do not use this term in your letter.
If you are establishing your own private school and plan to file a PSA in October, you will need to request your student records AS THE SCHOOL. You should pick a name for your new school (for some tips and ideas on that, read this article), create a simple letterhead, and sign the letter as the administrator or principal of your school. CHEA also recommends that this letter be sent via certified mail for proof of receipt. A sample letter is available here.
If you are enrolling in a PSP or public school at home option, the school will handle the records request from your previous school.
Once you have your child’s old records, you will need to be sure to maintain new ones as required by law. I won’t go into great detail here as we have a blog post that’s part of our Homeschooling 101 series that covers it well. We also have an upcoming webinar. You do need to keep a copy of your PSA, a record of attendance, a course of study, and a list of faculty and their qualifications (your education is enough qualification.)
PLAN & PREPARE
Now that you have your legal “ducks in a row,” you can relax a little and start planning the amazing year you are going to have learning with your kids! If you have young children (Preschool/Kindergarten), I can’t recommend this article enough. I didn’t follow these suggestions myself with my kindergartener several years ago and I wish I had! I think we would have had a more enjoyable year.
For older kids, choosing curriculum can be overwhelming. The options that are available to homeschooling families today are varied and plentiful. You will want to consider how your children learn, your approach to learning, your budget, your schedule, etc. What is best for one family is not necessarily best for another. We encourage you to read through some of our articles about curriculum and also view our “Choosing Your Curriculum” webinar for more information about how to select the curriculum you are going to use for your kids.
Likewise, what a typical day looks like in each homeschool is different for each family. If you have activities or classes during the week or parents who work, those will all factor into what your weekly schedule will look like. Some families school during traditional “school” hours and days while others will do their learning in the evenings or partly on the weekend. That’s one of the benefits of being your own private school; you can set your schedule to whatever works best for your unique family situation. For some tips and ideas on how to plan your year, CHEA has a “Planning Your Year” webinar as well as some downloadable forms on our website to aid you in this process.
Homeschooling is not easy. It takes work. It can be difficult. There will be challenging days. There will be great days. This is all completely normal! Find veteran homeschoolers in your area to encourage you and walk alongside you. Use the many resources CHEA has developed just for you (we have more than 35 years of experience helping homeschoolers in California). Remember to take a deep breath when you feel overwhelmed. You CAN do this. Just keep calm and homeschool on!
Here is a list of other resources from CHEA that new homeschoolers may find helpful as they plan, prepare, and start their school year:
New to Homeschool Digital Content Pass
Virtual Homeschooling High School Mini-Con
Special Needs Solutions for Homeschool Families
CHEA’s YouTube Channel
Facebook Live Videos on CHEA’s Facebook Page
CHEA’s Facebook Communities: Homeschool California and Working Homeschool Moms