Documentation of homeschool plans were due to school district superintendents or their designees by the end of June. However, House Bill 1013, a bill amending PA homeschool laws at Section 1327.1 that has been effective since the end of last year, substantially narrows the authority of superintendents’ oversight of homeschooling programs taking place in their school districts. It is essential that school districts ensure they are complying with the new PA homeschool laws as they differ significantly from the original homeschooling scheme that has been in place for several years.
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.” Though HB 1013’s amendments to Section 1327.1 do not change the curricular requirements of homeschool programs (also known as “home education programs”), they substantially affect the nature of a district’s authority over home education programs taking place in a district’s jurisdiction.
HB 1013’s express intent was to ease the burden of homeschooler compliance with public education laws. Under prior law, parents or guardians implementing the homeschooling program (“supervisors”) were required to submit a “portfolio of records and materials” to the district for the district’s approval. The current bill eliminates the prior approval scheme, removing the district’s burden to approve all homeschool plans and relaxing the regulatory burdens of homeschool supervisors. Now, supervisors must only provide documentation from an evaluator certifying that an appropriate home education program is taking place. These evaluations under prior and current PA homeschool law are conducted by qualified professional educators who observe the home education program and review the student’s portfolio.
At any point during the school year, if a district believes an appropriate home education program is not taking place based on its review of the annual certificate, 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 PA homeschool law’s amendments. Under prior law, a reasonable belief was also required for mandating homeschool evaluations, but districts were not required to make explicit to supervisors the basis for reasonable belief in to compel an evaluation. In this way, while the bill removes some of the district’s burden in reviewing a homeschool plan’s entire portfolio, it also raises the burden for districts seeking to compel an evaluation in addition to the one already required by the annual certificate.
The new PA homeschool law’s additional changes include a stay-put provision that allows students to remain in the home education program during the pendency of any appeal and the requirement that all diplomas awarded by homeschool supervisors at the conclusion of the home education plan be recognized as equivalent with those awarded by public schools, regardless of district-approval of the home education plan awarding the diploma.
HB 1013 introduced significant changes to the way school districts are required to oversee home education plans. Complying with Section 1327.1’s amendments will require a change in district policies and practices in many cases. Stock and Leader’s School Group attorneys are well-versed in the new law’s requirements and can provide districts with the support needed to ensure the best practices when interacting with students and families using home education programs.