by Jessica Frierson, September 2022

There is much confusion about the legal requirements for a homeschool. Parents opening a new homeschool have many questions. Often, much of what they have heard from others is not entirely correct. Even homeschool veterans are often mistaken about the exact requirements of the laws governing homeschools. To add to this, although they have now changed their website, DNPE previously had a somewhat confusing format on their webpages where suggestions were easily construed as requirements. The true requirements for homeschools in North Carolina are actually fairly simple.

A good place to start is to understand that in the United States, governance of homeschools is left up to each state. There are no federal guidelines for homeschools. State law can greatly vary from state to state, creating further confusion for those who have made a move from one state to another. North Carolina created the Department of Non-Public Education (DNPE) to oversee all non-public schools, which includes both private schools and homeschools. This is important to note because many people mistakenly quote rules that apply only to public schools as if they applied to all schools in North Carolina, when there is a strong division with very different rules. So let’s take a look at what the law actually says.

 

Legal Foundation

The basis of our legal foundation to homeschool is found in the policy section of Article 39 of Chapter 115C: “In conformity with the Constitutions of the United States and of North Carolina, it is the public policy of the State in matters of education that ‘No human authority shall, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience,’ or with religious liberty and that ‘religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind . . . the means of education shall forever be encouraged.’” 

General Statute 115C-563 defines a homeschool as “a nonpublic school consisting of the children of not more than two families or households, where the parents or legal guardians or members of either household determine the scope and sequence of academic instruction, provide academic instruction, and determine additional sources of academic instruction.”

This definition answers many questions that arise over homeschooling legalities. As you can see from the definition above, you may homeschool children from ONE additional family other than your own. To state the obvious, this would mean that a group of parents may NOT hire a teacher to homeschool all of their children. (They can open a private school and, following those separate rules and regulations, hire a teacher to teach their children, but that is not a homeschool.) This also shows us that the teaching is primarily to be done by the parent, and at a minimum, the parent or legal guardian is determining what, how, when, with what curricula and resources, etc. their children are being taught. “General Statute 115C-563(a) as amended changes the definition of a home school to allow parents to hire tutors, let their children participate in group settings where they receive instruction (co-ops, 4-H classroom instruction, etc.) and be instructed by an expert that is not a part of the household in the established homeschool (apprenticeships, a homeschool doctor teaching biology, etc.)”.

 

Testing

G.S. 115C-564 gives us more guidelines. First, it releases homeschools from the safety and health inspections that would otherwise be required if the school were not operating from a residence. Second, it differentiates that annual standardized testing is required, as opposed to only in certain grades as it is for private schools. DNPE gives clear guidance on how to meet this testing requirement and NCHE offers more information, as well as a listing of testing services that can be used. 

Standardized testing is not the same as End-of-Grade (EOG) testing that is performed in public schools. A major difference that should be understood by both parents and students is that while the public-schooled student’s outcome on their EOGs can determine promotion to the next grade level as well as have an effect on the teacher’s performance rating, the standardized test used by homeschools is not seen by anyone other than the parent unless the parent chooses to show it to another person. It is simply administered to the student – in nearly all cases at the residence and often by the parent – and the results maintained for one year (by the parent) and “…shall be made available…at the principal office of such school, at all reasonable times, for annual inspection by a duly authorized representative of the State of North Carolina.according to G.S. 115C-549 and 115C-557. This annual inspection in the “principal office” is mandatory but rarely requested. In recent years, families met the representative at a local library, and these meetings are voluntary. Now it is now being done virtually, and DNPE believes that these are mandatory because their legal counsel has determined that it meets the “in the principal’s office. DNPE is not concerned about how your student scores on the test, just that you meet the requirement of the law by administering it annually. So as you can see, there is no need for stressing over the standardized testing done in a homeschool, as I have written about in more detail here

 

Instructors

Finally, G.S. 115C-564 states that the person who is doing the academic instruction must at least have a high school diploma. This does not preclude a sibling, for example, assisting their younger brother or sister with their school work or instruction from another individual on a particular subject, but rather that the parent who will be doing those tasks laid out in section 563 holds the minimum of a high school diploma. When opening a homeschool, you will be asked to submit a copy of your diploma or proof of graduation. This proof can also include any other verification that you had a high school diploma, such as an associate’s or bachelor’s degree or a college transcript.

 

Attendance

Additional records that must be maintained and shown for annual inspection include immunization records (or exemption) and attendance records. Attendance records can be kept using any method desired by the parent, including checkmarks on a wall calendar, a school planner, or this simple one-page pdf offered by DNPE. How many days must the student be in attendance? The law does NOT have a required number of days; but rather must “operate on a regular schedule, excluding reasonable holidays and vacations, during at least nine calendar months of the year.” (G.S. 115C-548) You, the administrator, determine what it means to operate on a regular basis over those nine calendar months and which months you wish to operate your school. 

So the logical next question would be: precisely who is required to be in attendance? The North Carolina compulsory school attendance law (Article 26, Chapter 115C) requires that “parents and/or guardians, of children who are at least age 7 but not yet 16, ensure that their children attend school.” This brings up a common question from parents who wish to withdraw a child under the age of seven from a public school in which they had been enrolled. The schools, being notoriously – and somewhat understandably – uninformed about homeschool law, often insist that the parent show proof that the child has been transferred to a new school (the homeschool). However, this is contrary to the compulsory attendance law and to DNPE’s website, which states: 

  • “DO NOT send a Notice of Intent to DNPE for the present school year if the only students to be enrolled in your home school: (a) are currently under age 7 and will not turn age 7 in the present/current school year, or (b) are currently 18 years of age or older.
  • Please send your Notice of Intent five days prior of your home school’s initial opening date. If any of your children will turn age 7 before this coming June 1, please send your Notice of Intent at least 5 days before the child’s 7th birthday. One Notice of Intent per school, please – not per student.”

Parents whose oldest child is under the age of seven may begin homeschooling their child as they wish to do so without opening a homeschool. Then as the oldest child is turning 7, they can officially open their homeschool.

 

Subjects

You may now be wondering what subjects must be taught to your child. Although the standardized testing must include English grammar, reading, spelling, and math, there are no mandatory subjects that must be studied. A good guideline to follow in this regard is to consider how best to prepare your child for life, including future career options, college or university attendance, and any unexpected circumstances such as a need to transfer to a schooling option besides homeschooling. You will want to give your child a well-rounded education which would most likely include language arts, mathematics, science, social studies/history, art, music, foreign language, health, and other subjects. A good suggestion that I have heard is to look at the minimum requirements for several different colleges or universities to ensure that your student will be able to meet those, and then work your way backwards to the level your child is currently at. 

 

Graduation

Another noticeable absence from the list of requirements is any mention of graduation. Since the state of North Carolina regards a homeschool as an actual school in itself, the school administrator sets the graduation requirements for their school as is done in any other nonpublic school. So mom or dad, YOU decide what it will take for your students to graduate from the [home]school that you oversee. The suggestion I gave above for selecting courses of study applies to this as well. What do you think your child will need for the next step of their life after high school? Set your conditions for graduation based on that. You may find that it will even vary slightly from one child to the next, depending on their post-graduation aspirations or individual circumstances. This is particularly helpful for those families with special needs children. 

Once your child has completed the courses prescribed for graduation from your homeschool, you will issue them a diploma. You can design one of your own, purchase one from a company that sells them, or order one from NCHE. Whatever source you use, the authority behind that prized piece of paper is the homeschool administrator. This is a legal document recognized by the state as proof of your child’s completion of their high school education, on equal footing with a diploma issued by any other high school in our state. If your child wishes to become a homeschooling parent one day down the road, this diploma will be what they use to open their own homeschool, as I did when I opened my homeschool several years after graduating from homeschool and receiving my diploma from my mother. Another thing to know about your high school diploma is that diplomas from online private schools which are located in other states are not recognized by the state of North Carolina. If your student graduates from one of these, you need to issue a diploma from your state-recognized homeschool. 

As you can see, homeschooling in North Carolina is fairly simple. NCHE has worked hard to keep it that way, beginning years before there was any specific wording in our state statutes regarding homeschools, and continuing over the years to diligently guard the rights of parents to choose what they feel is the best educational path for their children. You can count on us to maintain that attentiveness as our lawmakers periodically attempt to introduce new legislation. We have a team dedicated to monitoring the happenings in the General Assembly, visiting our legislators in Raleigh, and building relationships with our lawmakers so that they can see firsthand what a wonderful educational choice homeschool truly is. 

Jessica Frierson is a homeschool graduate and has been homeschooling her ten children since 2000. She serves as the secretary for NCHE, writes for GREENHOUSE, and is the lead blogger for the NCHE blog.

Quotes from DNPE taken from NC DOA: Home School Information and Home-School-Guidebook-2020-2021.pdf (nc.gov)