The Private School Option - Homeschool (page 4)
Children are exempt from compulsory attendance if they "are being instructed in a private full-time day school by persons capable of teaching." (§48222) A private school has been defined as "any school, whether conducted for profit or not, giving a course of training similar to that given in a public school at or below the twelfth grade, including but not limited to schools owned or operated by any church." (Vehicle Code §492.) This broad definition includes home-based private schools as well as private school cooperatives and private school independent study programs. Whereas some of the private school programs operated by others may benefit some families, many families establish their own private schools. This section discusses how to do that.
A private school is established by following the requirements in the Education Code. Once the school has been established, it must file a private school affidavit annually (§33190.) This affidavit does not establish a school; it merely lets the California Department of Education (CDE) know that a school has been established. Any individual may establish a private school in any location without a teaching credential or a business motive as long as he or she follows these statutory requirements.
Children in private schools in California are not required to take any standardized tests. The legislature has clearly chosen to let parents determine whether their children are being educated satisfactorily.
All California private schools, those home-based and those not, are required to keep the following records:
- Attendance records (§48222)
- Courses of study offered (§33190)
- Faculty qualifications (§33190)
- Criminal record summaries (§§33190 and 44237)
- Immunization records or waivers (Health and Safety Code §120335.)
- The private school affidavit (formerly known as an R-4) (§33190)
We recommend that you keep these records in two separate binders. The first binder should hold the records that a government official, such as an attendance officer, is legally entitled to see without a warrant or a subpoena: a copy of the filed private school affidavit, your attendance records, and a letter verifying that the children are enrolled in and attending the school. The second binder should hold all of the other required records identified in the list above: courses of study offered, faculty qualifications, criminal record summaries, and immunizations records or waivers. Although you are required to keep these, no public official is entitled to see them without a subpoena. In fact, we believe that many of these records cannot even be seen with a subpoena. However, the law requires you to have them, and you are signing, under penalty of perjury, that you do have them.
Homeschoolers often keep additional records such as the work completed, and we recommend that you do keep sufficient records to help you substantiate work completed in case the student transfers to another school or needs transcripts for college applications. However, these records are not legally required and should not be volunteered to any government official.
Probably for reasons having to do with the separation of church and state, the California statutes are very clear that government has no right to inspect any private school teacher qualifications, student work, curriculum or the like. Health codes obviously apply to larger schools, but understand that no one is entitled to see or inspect anything relating to your school other than what is explicitly identified above.
A. Attendance Records
Attendance records can be as simple as a one-page calendar containing boxes for each day of the school year, with a notation at the bottom stating that days absent are indicated with a mark. You are free to decide the length of each school day and school year and when it is in session.
B. Courses of Study
Generally, instruction must be in English and "in the several branches of study required to be taught in the public schools" (§48222), but how or what you teach within those branches is up to you. To meet this requirement your school could keep a printed copy of the code sections that set forth the branches of study the state requires schools to offer. The "adopted course of study for grades 1 to 6" is set forth in §51210, and the "adopted course of study for grades 7 to 9" is set forth in §§51220, 51220.5, and 51221 (these lists are fairly general and far less specific than the state standards that public schools must teach). Another alternative is to obtain a copy of the courses of study offered by a local public school. Although instruction must be offered in those areas by the school, it is not necessary to teach each and every subject. You are free to decide which courses would most benefit your students and how to teach them. However, a court may decide that your school is illegal if certain subjects are not offered. (See In re Shinn (1961) 195 Cal.App.2d 683.)
C. Faculty and Employees
Teachers in private schools do not need to hold state teaching credentials, even though many state officials seem to think they do. The statute is very clear on this point. §48222 requires that the teachers be "capable of teaching," but this phrase is not explained or defined. We believe most people who can speak and read competently in English generally could be capable.
Most home-based private schools do not have any employees because the parents are the primary teachers. Parents teaching their children are the faculty. Keep updated résumés of your faculty in your school records, including their names, addresses and qualifications. If the teacher does not have a credential, list other qualifications that make him or her capable of teaching. These qualifications could include experience teaching in your school, other work or volunteer experience, undergraduate and advanced degrees, educational conferences attended, including homeschool conferences, or training sessions.
Some homeschooling families hire others to help with certain aspects of their children's education, such as piano teachers or athletic coaches. Weekly piano lessons or even daily sports lessons do not qualify these teachers as your employees. However, if you are interested in hiring full- or part-time teachers, you can do so. Any employee hired to work with your children must provide you with sufficient information to determine that he or she is capable of teaching. Additionally, you must obtain the criminal record summary and TB certificate described below. "'Employment' means the act of engaging the services of a person, who will have contact with pupils, to work in a position at a private school at the elementary or high school level . . . on a regular, paid full-time basis, regular, paid part-time basis or paid full- or part-time seasonal basis." (EC §44237(b)(2).) Thus, the piano teacher or gymnastics instructor with his or her own studio, and a grandmother teaching her grandchildren without being paid, are not employees. However, anyone you hire and pay to teach within your home under your direction on a regular full- or part-time basis may be considered an employee. You may wish to consult with an attorney to clarify the difference between an independent contractor and an employee. Each situation is unique and can have important tax and record-keeping consequences.
D. Criminal Record Summary
§44237 explicitly states that the criminal record summary is not required for parents teaching only their children. Since most homeschooling families do not hire employees, the exact procedure will not be discussed in depth in this article. However, if you do hire others to teach your children in your home, you may need to obtain criminal record summary information on them. Each employee must submit two sets of fingerprints that the school then submits to the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation. Further information can be obtained from your local county office of education.
The Health and Safety Codes (hereinafter H&S) §§120335 and 120375 require private schools to obtain documentation that each pupil has received early childhood, tetanus, and hepatitis B immunizations. For a specific list of immunizations, see H&S §120355, included in the final section of this booklet.
Immunization records can be obtained from your doctor. If a parent files a letter or affidavit with the school that the immunization is contrary to his or her beliefs, the child is exempted from the immunization requirement. (H&S §120365.) A medical exemption can be obtained from your doctor if the physical condition of your child is such that the immunizations are not considered to be safe (H&S §120370).
One could read the Health and Safety Code §§121525 and 121545 to say that parents are required to have updated TB tests, as all employees and volunteers in private schools must have them. Since there is an argument that parents are neither "employees" nor "volunteers" in the strict meaning of the words, it is unknown whether a court would apply this requirement to parents. If you have taken the test, by all means include the results in your records, but if you have not, you should make your own decision as to whether you wish to do so. People whom you hire as employees or volunteers in your private school having regular and prolonged contact with children would need to have an updated TB certificate.
F. The Private School Affidavit
Section 33190 of the Education Code requires that each private school file an affidavit containing specified information on a yearly basis, in the period between October 1 and October 15 for the then-current school year. Section 48224 of the Education Code states that a child is exempt from the compulsory attendance laws if enrolled in and attending a full-time private day school that has complied with Section 33190, so we believe that filing the affidavit on a timely basis is very important. Accordingly, existing private schools as well as new schools formed at the beginning of a school year should file that October and each October thereafter for as long as the school is operating. A new school should prepare all of the required documentation as described above before filing the affidavit.
Section 33190 clearly provides that the affidavit is to be filed between October 1 and October 15 for a given school year. No one should try to file early. In late 2004, the CDE began to say that it would not "accept" any affidavits filed after the end of the calendar year. For a number of reasons, people who are forming a school after the end of the October filing period need to consider whether they should try to file an affidavit for that year anyway.
The CDE believes that the filing of an affidavit is a ministerial thing only; it doesn't create or validate the school. We agree with this. A CDE representative has also said that the only purpose of the affidavit is to allow them to compile a private school directory, and by stating that they don't want any affidavits after the end of the calendar year, we can guess that this is the cutoff for schools that will be in the directory. We don't agree with the view that the affidavit is only for the directory, as the Education Code also requires private school operators to promise under penalty of perjury that they're following the private school laws. Signing and filing the affidavit accomplishes this as well.
We have asked the CDE if they agree that new schools can be formed after October 15, and, if so, when these schools should file their affidavits. The CDE told us that they believe that new private schools are allowed to be formed after October 15. They said, however, that these new schools should not file an affidavit for that school year, but should just wait until the following fall to file.
We agree that, strictly speaking, this is correct. However, because the CDE isn't the only government agency that has a reason to think about whether a particular private school is "legal," we are a little worried that some other government official might interpret the requirements of Section 33190 differently. For example, an attendance officer might come to someone's door inquiring whether a particular child is attending a legal school and not truant. That official has the right to see certain papers (see discussion at Section C of Special Situations). One of those papers is the filed affidavit. If the school was formed after October 15 of a school year and hadn't filed an affidavit, it could certainly explain to the officer how the CDE interprets a new school's obligations. But that officer might look at Section 33190 and Section 48224 and conclude that the school isn't legal because it hasn't filed an affidavit. We doubt that a supervisor or a court would agree with the officer's conclusion, but any parents wanting to shut down the possibility of ever having this argument might want to think about filing an affidavit anyway.
The CDE has said, in various years, that it won't "accept" filings after January 1. In early 2005, they disabled the online filing option after that date, but put it back up when a number of people and groups complained. We think they came to understand that people can file affidavits at any time, even if it is outside the October window. We believe that the CDE does not have the authority to "accept" affidavits (although they sometimes reject them for incompleteness), and so we think that schools are still entitled to send them. If you are trying to file after October 15 and find that the online filing system isn't working, you can still file a paper affidavit. We have a sample paper affidavit available. Follow the instructions below for completing and sending the affidavit.
We believe that the online version is much simpler and recommend that the school go online through a local library, or borrow a friend's Internet access for the day. Affidavits are accessed online at the Department of Education website, and completed there. The current URL is http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/ps/rq/affidavit.asp. Please be aware that all of the fields indicated as required must be completed (for instance, you cannot file with "0" students). There are several items that are not required (such as e-mail address); it is pretty clear on the system which are required and which are not.
All private schools, regardless of number of students, can file online. As of this writing, schools with six or more students are given a password and can access their affidavit from the previous year and make changes to the content if necessary. Those with fewer than six students can file online, but cannot access their prior year's affidavit. For these schools, the affidavit is completed in full each year.
New for the 2005-2006 school year is the elimination of mailing a signed, paper copy of the affidavit to the CDE. Now all schools, as part of completing the affidavit online, are signing the affidavit using an "electronic signature." The CDE must be comfortable now that an electronic signature has the same legal force and effect as an ink one (see below about discussion on perjury). Of course, if you are using a paper affidavit, you must print the document, sign it, and mail it to the CDE. As soon as the CDE receives the submitted online affidavit or the signed paper affidavit, it will then put the information entered into the CDE website into its database for access by school districts throughout the state. The procedures for filing the affidavit are constantly changing. For the most updated information, check the legal section of this website or the California Department of Education website (http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/ps/rq/ ).
Whether you file online or on paper, we would like to remind you that, when you sign the affidavit either electronically or for mailing to the CDE, you are signing it under penalty of perjury. You are attesting under oath to the truth of all the statements in the affidavit (for instance, that you are maintaining all of the required records). We believe that this should be taken seriously. It is possible that the state could prosecute someone for perjury if they were clearly being untruthful on the affidavit. Other than the confirmation number you get when you have submitted the affidavit online, the CDE will not send you any kind of acknowledgement that they have received your school's affidavit. Accordingly, it is very highly recommended that you make sure you have printed out the affidavit before ending your session (we suggest you print it out once before hitting "submit" just in case something goes wrong with your printer, for instance, and then once again once the confirmation page comes up). If you are filing a paper version, we recommend that it be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested. The signed receipt card should be kept with your file copy of the affidavit and is good evidence that the affidavit was, in fact, filed.
The fact that the affidavits are filed after the school year typically starts is not a problem. No private school can file before October 1, and the state does not claim that every private school student is truant between mid-August and October 1. If you are contacted after the typical school year begins but before October by anyone who has a right to see your school's affidavit, you should explain that no private school can file an affidavit before October 1. You can also offer to show them your affidavit from the prior year, or, if you did not file in the prior year, offer to mail them a copy when you can.
As long as you follow the private school statutory requirements, your school is a legal private school. Fill out the private school affidavit carefully and accurately, return it in a timely manner, and keep a copy of it with the records listed above. If you have questions about filling out the private school affidavit, see our line by line R-4 instructions or contact the legal team.
Some people have expressed concern that filing online will increase the chance that truancy officers will have access to their information and that they will be targeted for harassment for having a home-based private school. We believe exactly the opposite to be true, and strongly encourage everyone to use the online system if possible. Some have also expressed concern that the online affidavit asks for information not strictly required by law. We are also not concerned by this. The paper affidavits filed before the 2002-2003 school year also asked for this information. Also, the information requested (phone number, school district where private school is located) is immaterial, and objecting to providing it would make a school stand out.
G. Position of the California Department of Education
For a detailed analysis of the state law and federal constitional law issues relating to homeschooling, including some of the history of how the Department of Education has viewed homeschooling, please see this essay by Stephen Greenberg, an appellate attorney who is also a homeschooling father.
H. Notifying Your Local District
If your child is enrolled in a public school at the beginning of a school year and you later withdraw your child and establish your private school, please read the information on Withdrawing your Child from Public or Private School Mid-Year. If you have never enrolled your children in the public school, you do not need to notify anyone.
If, however, you had your child attending the public school during the previous year and did not tell the district that your child would not be attending the next year, you may wish to consider notifying them at the beginning of the next year that your child is now attending private school, so that the officials are not concerned about truancy. This is more of a concern in smaller districts with more stable populations, where the absence of a known child will be more easily noticed (large, urban districts are less likely to notice given the huge transience in their populations). Notifying the school and requesting your child's cumulative file closes the school's file on your child, and your child can not be considered truant once you have sent this notice. For more information about this, please see Withdrawing your Child from Public or Private School Mid-Year. See a sample letter you can send.
I. Private School Cooperatives
Homeschoolers may wish to consider setting up cooperative private schools in order to homeschool. Essentially, this option means that a group of parents join together to start a school. The requirements are essentially the same as starting a home-based private school. If you can agree on a school name, where it will be located, who will be the administrators, directors and principal officers, and where the records will be located, you can start a cooperative school. One person will need to request, complete, sign and file the private school affidavit. The custodian of records must keep the same records that are required for a home-based private school for a single family. These records include the private school affidavit, attendance records, courses of study offered, faculty and qualifications (including the TB test certificate), criminal record summaries (except for parents teaching exclusively their own children), and immunization records or waivers. The school should provide each family with letters confirming the attendance of their children at the school.
Unless your cooperative school holds formal and regular classes with one of the parent-teachers teaching a group of children who are not their own, the criminal record summary required by §44237 is not required. However, if your school has traditional classes where a parent is working with other children, then your school must obtain a criminal record summary for all teachers.
If your school has over 50 students and your school has a private school building, there are various building requirements that your school will need to follow. We assume here that each family will be teaching their children or a small group of children in their own home. Private schools that are conducted in private homes with fewer than a specified number of students are not subject to certain building, earthquake, and air contaminant requirements.
Selected California Statutes Applicable to Private Schools
A number of California statutes apply to private schools. These include the requirements for establishing a private school, as well as miscellaneous safety and health requirements. For statutes applicable to homeschooling see Selected Statutes. The entire California Education Code is on the State of California website at http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/calaw.html. We encourage anyone planning on operating a private school to be familiar with these statutes.
Reprinted with the permission of the HomeSchool Association of California. © 2007–2008 by HomeSchool Association of California. All rights reserved.
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