Can homeschoolers take a class at school?
“The school district says we missed the deadline!”
“The district demands more information about us!”
“The district won’t give us permission!”
What do we do about a hostile district?
Is homeschooling legal in New Jersey? Yes. Homeschooling has never been illegal in NJ. However, it took a pair of court rulings* in the 1960s to convince public school districts that “equivalent instruction elsewhere than at school” included homeschooling.
*State v. Vaughn, 44 N.J. 142 (1965)
State v. Massa, 95 N.J. Super. 382 (1967)
Are we required to notify the school district?
There is no law that says we must notify the districts that we are homeschooling. Many people never notify and never have any problems. However, in the Vaughn decision, the judge found that parents, if brought into court on truancy charges, must introduce evidence that their children are receiving “equivalent instruction” and are not truant. (The burden of proof then falls upon the State to show that the instruction isn’t equivalent.) For this reason, many homeschoolers over the years have chosen to inform their district of their intentions, thereby basically insuring themselves against misunderstandings and possible truancy charges.
Some homeschoolers prefer to send a “letter of notification” to the district, giving the names of the children and stating simply that these children will be homeschooled. This is best if you are removing children from a school in which they’ve been enrolled, as the district will certainly notice that they’ve not been asked to transfer records. This is also a good idea if you are in a hostile district known to harass homeschoolers, as it robs them of the chance to “discover” you and charge you with truancy.
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Are we required to follow a schedule? No. All NJ schools, public and private, determine their own schedules. Public schools are required to provide 180 days of instruction. Since homeschoolers are not public schools, we are not required to give evidence of any number of “instructional days” or hours, nor are we required to follow or to submit a schedule.
Must we use the school’s curriculum? No. In the Massa decision, the judge determined that homeschoolers are free to use whatever curriculum, materials or methods they choose.
In the best schools, teachers have the freedom to individualize the curriculum for each child. They aren’t required to stick with a lesson plan or book if they’ve found something better, or if the student’s learning doesn’t conform to the planned speed and schedule. Homeschoolers have this same freedom, and more.
What if the school doesn’t approve our curriculum? A school district is not permitted to deny a family’s right to homeschool based on its “disapproval” of educational materials. This was firmly decided in the Massa decision. All the district is permitted to do is to ask if we are covering the major subject areas.
Some school administrators don’t understand this. They believe that they have the right to study our curriculum and materials to see that the content and quality match those used by their school. This is wrong.
Unfortunately, some homeschoolers are being given bad advice, and are told that they must submit their materials to their local district’s administration for “approval.” And the more homeschoolers who follow this advice, the more administrators there will be who believe they have the authority to demand this of the rest of us.
Do I need a certicate to teach? No. Teaching certificates are required only in public schools and in certain private schools that are funded by public education money. (This consists of schools providing special education for disabled or at-risk students.)
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Can we homeschool our special-needs child? Yes. The law makes no distinction between “regular” and “special-needs” students. State and Federal laws pertaining to education require the availability of testing to identify special-needs students, but parents are not required to accept these services. (Note: In some cases parents can be required to accept such services, but only when a court has found them guilty of educational neglect. Such court findings are rare.)
What about testing?
There are no requirements for testing of homeschooled students. Some parents may wish to use standardized tests to determine their child’s progress. Public school districts are not required to offer such tests to homeschoolers. (Some schools do allow homeschoolers to take the test used by the local district.)
What about the HSPT? A passing score on the High School Proficiency Test (HSPT) is required for anyone seeking a public school diploma. It is not required for students not graduating from a public school.
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How do homeschoolers get a diploma? Diplomas are issued by the schools in which graduates were enrolled. If you are homeschooling, you can obtain a diploma through an “umbrella school” such as Clonlara, Oak Meadow or Hewitt. You can obtain a diploma from a curriculum program such as Sonlight or A Beka. Or you can print one yourself. There are no restrictions on who can issue diplomas. A diploma is only as good as the issuer. If a student hasn’t learned anything, a diploma is worthless. Many graduates bearing “official” high school diplomas have been found to be unable to read the diploma that certifies them as being “educated.”
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Can homeschoolers take a class at school? Public schools are not required to permit nonenrolled students to take part in academic or extracurricular activities. Nor are they prohibited from doing so. This is left up to the individual school district. Some do permit homeschoolers to participate. (Some few even actively invite participation.) If a homeschooling student wishes to take a class, join a team or club, or attend a dance at his or her local school, this must be arranged between the district and the family.
School districts don’t have the authority to demand more from homeschoolers than the law demands of us. They may not set deadlines. They may not ask for personal information other than the child’s name, address and birthdate. They may not dictate our curriculum or tell us what materials to use.
NJHA strongly recommends that homeschoolers do not give in to such demands. Any short-term relief is outweighed by continued demands on you and on others. If an administrator from your local school district is actively hostile, or demanding more information than the law requires, print out and send a copy of the NJ State Board of Education’s 2000 booklet
“Frequently Asked Questions About Homeschooling in New Jersey”,with the appropriate sections highlighted. This will accomplish two goals: It will inform a clueless administrator about the limits of the district’s authority, and it will tell the district that you will not be intimidated.
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If you want to notify, here’s a basic letter, to be sent to the district superintendent’s office and cc’d to the local principal:
As a courtesy, I am sending this letter to inform you that my daughter, [name], who attended [previous school name] through the end of 7th grade, will be homeschooled, starting this year, in accordance with N.J.S.A. 18A:38-25.
If you have any questions, please send them in writing to the above address.
That’s all you need. Send both copies certified with return receipt. If the school writes back asking for more information, download and send them a copy of NJ State Board of Education’s
“Frequently Asked Questions About Homeschooling in New Jersey”.
The information contained in this document is not intended as legal advice. If you have a legal dispute with your school district, NJHA recommends that you seek advice from a practicing New Jersey attorney. NJHA offers assistance in settling disputes before they become legal issues.