By Crystal Ladwig
You have thought about the idea for what seems like forever, went back and forth on the decision, and finally decided to homeschool your children. While there is a sense of relief that comes with making the decision, there is a lot to do before you are ready to start teaching. So, where do you begin?
Florida law requires that caregivers choosing to homeschool contact their local school district in writing to formally notify the district of their choice. That letter of intent must include your child’s name, birthdate, address and parent signature, and it must be filed with the district no more than 30 days before you start homeschooling. Some districts, including Alachua County, have online forms that can be submitted instead of a written letter. In addition to the information required for Florida law, Alachua County’s form requires the child’s social security number, grade, gender, race, phone number and email address. You will also need to indicate whether the child will be taught using Florida Virtual School or a parent-provided curriculum. You will be required to submit a similar letter to terminate homeschooling if you choose to do so before high school graduation.
Florida law also requires that caregivers maintain a portfolio for each student and present it to the school district within 15 days if a written request from the district is received. The portfolio can be digital or paper, but it must include a sample of the work and lessons completed. The specific items included in the portfolio are entirely up to the parent but should represent the child’s educational progress. Keep this portfolio and any lesson plans or notes for at least two years. It is a good idea, but not required, to keep records longer for students in high school.
The final legal requirement is an annual evaluation. You will need to submit a letter to the school district from a certified Florida teacher attesting to your child’s academic progress. This is typically done in the late spring or early summer, but it is required no later than the anniversary date of your letter of intent. The letter does not need to include any specific information about your child’s progress. It simply attests that your child is or is not making adequate progress. The most common evaluation methods include nationally normed tests and portfolio assessments where a certified teacher reviews your child’s portfolio. Consider reaching out to homeschooling groups for information about specific evaluators that they can recommend.
Beyond legal requirements are the practical considerations you will need to make. Think about your goals for homeschooling. You will want to select a homeschool method and curricula that match those goals. It is also good to start talking to the various homeschooling groups and co-ops to learn more about their policies and enrollment information. There are several resources in the area to help you find a homeschool group including Facebook groups, the Florida Parent Educator’s Association and HomeschoolHotlinks.com. Finally, think about when you want to start homeschooling. It does not have to coincide with the public school calendar at all.
Homeschooling is challenging, yet rewarding. There is a lot to learn, and the first year is a transition for everyone. Take your time and seek out help from other homeschoolers. It is worth it!