Access to School District Resources
Because homeschooling law varies, your level of contact with your local school district may also vary—some states require home educators to turn in annual paperwork to their local school district; some states require paperwork to be submitted to the state department of education; and some states require no paperwork. However, regardless of individual state law, CRHE strongly encourages home educators to maintain a positive, cooperative relationship with their local school districts.
Please note that this page is not intended for parents who educate their children at home through full-time enrollment in public and charter school partnerships, sometimes called “independent study” or “distance learning.” Some of these programs may offer a public school curriculum via an online platform while others are more flexible, and may allow parents to choose and implement their own curriculum while receiving education reimbursements and access to public school classes and extracurriculars. Instead, our focus here is on families that are educating their children under their state’s homeschool law. We call this “autonomous” homeschooling.
Families homeschooling autonomously benefit from having a positive relationship with their local school district in a number of ways:
- If your school district makes resources available to local homeschooling families (such as athletics, extracurriculars, or even resource rooms with materials that can be checked out), you will be aware of what is available.
- If you need to enroll your child in public school at some later date, you will already have a positive relationship to build on.
- If questions arise about your homeschool, your child’s wellbeing, or whether you are meeting your state’s legal requirements for homeschooling, your local school officials will already be familiar with you and your family.
In this guide, we will start by covering the resources you may be able to access at your local school district as an autonomous home educator. Then we will examine the reasons home educators and school districts sometimes come into conflict, outlining why cooperation is important, and discussing how you can build a healthy relationship with your local public school district.
Public Schools as Resource Hubs
Public school districts function as large educational resource centers and learning hubs. While school districts’ primary responsibility is to students enrolled in public school, homeschooling parents should be aware of the various ways they may be able to tap into public school resources as home educators.
- Athletics programs: Some school districts allow homeschooled students to participate in public school athletics programs. Whether or not homeschooled students are allowed to participate may depend on the requirements of the state agency that sets the rules for high school athletics competitions between schools; in some cases, homeschooled students may need to earn a certain score on a standardized test in order to participate. In states where homeschool access to public school athletics programs is restricted, homeschooled students may still be able to participate in club sports in their local public schools. For more, see our study of homeschool athletics benefits.
- Extracurriculars: Don’t forget about non-athletic extracurricular activities like band or chess club! Homeschooled students’ participation in these activities is typically up to the local school district, or even the individual school. While there are many extracurricular activities available to homeschooled students in the wider community, there may be cases, particularly in smaller or more rural communities, where participation in extracurricular activities in the local public school is a good fit for homeschooled students.
- IEPs and disability services: Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), homeschooled children who are suspected to have a disability have the right to an evaluation at their local public school. IDEA also sets aside some federal funding for children with disabilities who are privately educated; in some states, this includes homeschooled students, who have access to disability services and an Individualized Education Program (IEP) through their local public schools. For more, see our page on homeschooling and disability law, and our guide on homeschooling children with disabilities.
- Individual classes: Some states and public school districts allow homeschooled students to enroll in individual classes, such as chemistry or art, in their local public school. In some cases, homeschooled students have the right under state law to enroll in individual public school classes, or in public school programs such as driver’s ed; in other cases this is up to local discretion. Some home educators enroll children in individual classes they do not feel prepared to teach at home, or in courses that serve as enrichments.
- State assessments: Some states and school districts allow homeschooled students to take state achievement tests in their local public schools; this test may satisfy state homeschool requirements, and provides home educators with information about student progress. For more on homeschool assessments, and why state achievement tests offered in your local public school may be a good option for your child, see our page on standardized testing.
- AP/SAT/ACT: AP tests offer homeschooled high school students an important way to verify their learning. Homeschooled students can take AP tests even if they did not take an official AP class at a school; to do so, however, they must find a school willing to allow them to sit for the test. You should start by contacting your local school district to learn their policy in this area. For more, see the College Board’s AP information page for homeschooled students. Public schools may also be sites for administering the SAT and ACT; you will select a local test center (typically either a public high school or a college or university) when you register for the SAT (here) or the ACT (here). For more, see our survey of the research on homeschool SAT and ACT-taking.
- Resource centers: In some cases, public school districts may have resource centers available to home educators. In Iowa, this is called a “Home School Assistance Program”; in other states, these offerings may be more informal. A handful of states have homeschool statutes that give home educators access to public school curriculum and educational materials in their local public schools. To find out what is available in your area, contact your local school district.
- Evaluators: In some states, home educators are required to have their children’s academic progress assessed by a standardized test, or by having a portfolio of the child’s work reviewed by a certified teacher. Even in states where this is not required, CRHE recommends that home educators have their children’s progress assessed each year by a neutral evaluator. Your school district may maintain a list of teachers willing to evaluate homeschooled students for a small fee; if they do not have a formal list, they should still be able to help direct you.
Building a Positive Relationship with Your School District
Remember, your local school district is staffed by human beings. In some cases they may have positive views of homeschooling; in other cases they may be more critical. Many opportunities for misunderstandings may arise between school districts and home educators, but having an antagonistic relationship with your school district benefits no one—least of all your child!
You and your school district have a lot to learn from each other. They have specialized knowledge about teaching, resources, and typical learning benchmarks, while you have specialized knowledge about your child and your family situation. In a 2001 article on the relationship between homeschooling families and public schools, Dr. Michael H. Romanowski, a former public school teacher and current education processor, wrote that to get the most out of their homeschooling experience, home educators should “develop an understanding of the responsibilities that public schools bear and they must view themselves not as self-contained entities, but as part of a larger educational system deserving of their support” (for more, see here).
If school district officials seem overly bureaucratic or skeptical, remember that they usually have what they believe to be your child’s best interests in mind, as well as their own professional obligations. Disputes with the school district can usually be resolved by approaching them as fellow professionals who care about your child, and demonstrating that you are a responsible homeschooling parent.
Remember, due to the lack of adequate legal oversight for homeschooling, school district employees have likely had experience with all kinds of home educators, not just the responsible ones. They may have seen parents begin homeschooling to avoid consequences for truancy or to hide abuse. CRHE has spoken with a public school employee who did everything she could to help a student who was withdrawn to be homeschooled, only to see him murdered by his caregivers. You may know that you are a responsible home educator (as do we! Most parents who come to our website want to homeschool their children to provide them with a positive and healthy education at home), but school district employees may have good reasons to be skeptical. By approaching your school district employees with the mindset of a professional educator who respects their expertise and their desire to help children, you help ensure that your district employees see you as a partner, and not as a cause for concern.
When you begin homeschooling, you should contact your school district to find out what resources are available to homeschooled students (see the list earlier on this page). Even if you do not need these resources now, you may want to access them in the future. Many school districts have a designated “homeschool liaison” who is responsible for giving out information about homeschooling, as well as keeping track of homeschool registration forms or other documents. In some cases this individual’s name and contact information will be available on your school district’s website; in other cases, it may not be. You may need to do some legwork and talk to multiple people before you find the correct person. You may also want to try calling your district on the phone, making sure that you have a list of your questions in front of you.
Remember that this is hopefully the first step in a positive and cooperative long-term relationship, so do your best to demonstrate your professionalism and that you take homeschooling seriously. Remember too that a positive relationship with your local school district will benefit the very people you are homeschooling for: your children.
Don’t forget to read the other articles in this section!
— Homeschool Resources & Support
— Public and Charter School Partnerships
— Access to School District Resources
— Joining a Homeschooling Group
— Homeschool Umbrella Schools
— Drawing on Local Resources
Return to our main Home Educator page!