I’m getting a lot of questions from parents of public-school students about making the switch to homeschooling right now. Here are some thoughts and guidance to share with your friends who have the same questions. The legal options mentioned are specific to the state of Florida.

First, right now families doing virtual learning through their public schools are not legally considered homeschoolers by the state. They are still public-school students and must do what the schools/teachers are assigning for virtual learning. If this is not working for you, I suggest giving it at least a week or so before switching to legally homeschooling. The public schools and teachers are just figuring out the whole virtual learning thing and were thrown into it without much time for preparation. It may take them a few weeks to figure out the best way to help the students learn at home. Be patient and give them some time.

Second, if you have been on the fence about homeschooling, decide that the public school’s virtual learning is not working for your children, and wish to make the jump to legally homeschooling, the first step is to withdraw from the public school. Yes, you will need to send a letter of intent to homeschool to your county’s homeschool office. But the official first step is to withdraw from their school. Hopefully, this should be able to be done through an email process at this time. Again, be patient, the front office staff probably is not at the school right now either and it may take a while for the actual paperwork to be worked out. Ask for them to email you the withdrawal form. Once you have withdrawn your child from the public school, then send the letter of intent via email to the county’s homeschool office. I am happy to help anyone find the email address of their county’s homeschool contact person if they need it. One year from your letter of intent is when you will be required to submit the annual evaluation to the county. This may be a portfolio review or standardized assessment.

Another option for legally homeschooling is an umbrella private school. If you wish to enroll in an umbrella school you do NOT send a letter of intent to the county, but instead, fill out the enrollment paperwork for the umbrella school. Your student will be considered a private school student and you will not need to submit a homeschool annual evaluation to the county because you are not considered a homeschooler by the county/state. Instead, you will submit attendance to the umbrella school and any other documents they require.

Once you are withdrawn from public school and the letter of intent is sent in (or you have enrolled in an umbrella school), then you are a legal homeschooler. Now the parent is totally in charge of what the child is to learn and how they are to learn it. Luckily, there are so many free resources now to try out because many companies are offering free programs and services to help parents educate their children while they are out of school. This is a good time to try out many of these programs and find what works best for your family. It is also okay to just deschool for a while and enjoy your family’s time at home together or concentrate on other things like cooking, gardening, outdoor play, games, art, music, reading, and watching educational programs. These are all still learning and just as important aspects of child learning as academic instruction

If you decide to go back to public school next year when things are hopefully back to normal and are registered with the county as a homeschooler, you will have to do a homeschool evaluation (portfolio review or standardized assessment) to turn into the homeschool office before re-enrolling back into the school system. Since state testing has been canceled for this year, it should be as easy as just showing the school the student’s evaluation form and filling out the enrollment paperwork. If you registered with an umbrella school you will have to withdraw from the umbrella school and re-enroll back into the public school. The public school always has the option to test and use the results for the placement of homeschooled students entering the school, but I doubt that will be an issue next year due to the current state of everything.

Finally, please remember that what we are experiencing now is not what homeschooling really is. We are all confined at home too and our kids are also crawling the walls. Homeschoolers are purposely social and usually out of the house at various activities multiple times a week if not daily. We have co-ops, park days, field trips, classes, clubs, libraries, and other activities that fill our weeks that are also now canceled due to the pandemic. We are all at home with our kids trying to entertain them just like everyone else while the kids just want to see their friends and  are missing their weekly routine.

An ending thought: We are all in this together just trying to educate our children with what we think is the best way for our own family whether it is homeschooling or public-school virtual learning. Remember that what works for your family, may not fit your friend’s family. Be kind and offer advice/help for all the parents who now have their kids at home instead of at school, but don’t be pushy about homeschooling or act like one way is better than another. If it is right for them they will make that decision and ask for help, just be available. I am also available to help anyone interested in homeschooling and to answer anyone’s questions.

Rebecca Cumbie M.S. Ed.  (Home Education Specialist)

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