What is a school year in a homeschool?

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It’s time for fall reviews and this time, the big controversy this time is that some reviewers in some districts are insisting that education only counts between September and June. Anything done in the summer cannot be possibly be used to demonstrate thorough and regular education! Let’s begin by looking at the Maryland homeschooling regulations to determine where this idea might originate and then we’ll look at the reasons why such a restriction makes no sense for real-life homeschooling families.

What does the law say about the school year?

Disclaimer: This does not constitute legal advice. It's the author's interpretation of how the regulations are applied in practice.

COMAR 13A.10.01.01-.05 mentions “the school year” a few times. It states that the regulation establishes the procedure “to determine if a child participating in a home instruction program is receiving regular, thorough instruction during the school year in the studies usually taught in the public schools to children of the same age.” This statement is repeated in the explanation that the portfolio “demonstrates the parent or guardian is providing regular, thorough instruction during the school year…”  It does not state there or anywhere else that that school year must match the public school calendar, nor does it prohibit parents from providing instruction outside of the public school calendar.

The next mention occurs in the paragraph about annual verification, “Annually thereafter, before the beginning of the school year, a parent or guardian shall verify the continuation of home schooling for his or her child with the local school superintendent or with the supervising nonpublic school or institution…” This regulations does seem to imply that you have to work within the school district’s calendar a bit at least in letting them know that you are still homeschooling. Looking at my local public school system’s calendar, their 2018-2019 school year runs from August 20, 2018 to August 2, 2019, though students don’t start attending classes until after Labor  Day. Therefore, the beginning of the school year in public school falls somewhere between the end of August and the beginning of September. In practice, many school districts ask parents at their spring review if they will continue to homeschool the following fall. My spring review was at the end of March, so my continuation notification was given 5 months before the beginning of the public school 2018-2019 year.

Then there are a couple of instances where the regulation tells parents and umbrella organizations to notify the school district “if a change occurs in the home school status of a child during the school year.” In this case that could be anyone’s definition of the school year. It just common sense that If you move at any time, you tell the district so they don’t keep contacting you at the wrong address or expect you to show up to reviews if you are out of their jurisdiction. If you enroll your kid in school, it would be during that school’s academic year, so tell the district so they don’t expect you for reviews.

The final mention of school year in the regulation states that “there are not more than three reviews during a school year.” As I mentioned above, the official public school year runs the entire year except for about 2 weeks in August. My school district does two reviews, one in the 2nd and in the one 4th quarter of the school year. So, technically, you could review in January and May for one public school year, and in November for the next public school year. But that still puts you at only 3 reviews even if you run your homeschool year from January to December.

Why is it silly to presume homeschools run from September to June?

Reason 1:

Until a couple of years ago, many public schools in Maryland started the last week in August. Someone who doesn’t have kids in public schools might not have noticed that a law was passed that public schools cannot start until Labor Day now. So, 3-4 years ago, work done the last week of August would have counted, but now it doesn’t?

Reason 2:

Public schools offer summer school. Some kids go because they need to make up a course they failed, others go to get a course out of the way to take other subjects during the school year. I have known many private and public school students who took geometry over the summer so that they could get to calculus in 12th grade. Of course that geometry course was listd on their transcript and the grade counted in the GPA. So, why shouldn’t work a homeschooler does in the summer count?

Reason 3:

Homeschoolers, particularly unschoolers, see the opportunity for learning throughout all aspects of life. That doesn’t always translate to written assignments reviewers expect us to present. So, educational experiences that have tangible evidence to put in a portfolio might be not occur daily, but rather once every couple of weeks. So, if you bring in museum ticket stubs from July, that doesn’t count, same stubs from May would be accepted?

Reason 4:

Homeschoolers follow a variety of schedules, none of which line up perfectly with the local school district. Some families do 4-day weeks, some do 6 weeks of school and one week off. Others, like us, travel a few times a year and therefore take off a week here or three weeks there. Even though we don’t have show a certain number of school days, those vacation days do tend to stretch the school year out. Many homeschoolers take to heart the school teacher’s lament about summer slump, so they don’t burn all the books on June 15th and turn into zombies until Labor Day. If I know that we are going to travel for two weeks in October, why can’t I start my school year in August to make up those days?

Do you have more questions about the homeschooling year? Comment below.

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