In recent years, homeschoolers have been receiving solicitations from a variety of online school programs. There are a number of online homeschools such as A Beka Academy, K12 Homeschool, Liberty University Online Academy and Keystone School Online. In 2012, some public school districts began to offer virtual classes to homeschool students, and now, NC virtual charter schools are recruiting students for the 2015-2016 school year. When opting for online classes, it is important to understand the NC homeschool law. It is easy to be out of compliance with the law if care is not exercised. This article will answer the question, “How can a student participate in these programs and still be considered a homeschool student?” First we need to be clear on what a homeschool is in NC. Homeschool laws are different in each state.
Definition of Homeschool in NC Law
Home school means 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. (Contained in Part 3 of article 39 Chapter 115C of the NC statutes.)
Types of Online Classes
First let’s look at the different types of online class opportunities.
Private Online Homeschool Programs
Many of these programs (A Beka Academy, Apologia Academy, BJU Press Homeschool, K12 Homeschool, Liberty University Online Academy, Keystone School Online, Enlightium Christian Academy, etc.) advertise that they provide accredited instruction. They can handle all instruction and measure student progress for each grade. All the parent needs to do is sign the student up for a certain grade level and help the student with their assignments. The NC homeschool law says that parents, legal guardians or members of the household must determine the scope and sequence of instruction, which classes students take and when they take them. Parents who enroll their children in virtual schools where the school administrators make those decisions are not in compliance with NC law. Also, many parents enroll their children in these programs because they are accredited. Remember that NC homeschools are not and cannot be accredited.
Some online schools allow the parent to pick and choose when their children will take online classes. By picking and choosing classes for their children, parents are determining the scope and sequence of instruction per the NC law.
NC Virtual Charter Schools
These schools are like brick and mortar charter schools, except all classes are taken online via the Internet. They are chartered by the NC State Board of Education, have a non-profit board of directors independent of the local school district, and they are public schools. NC approved the North Carolina Virtual Academy (with curriculum supplied by the for-profit K-12, Inc.) and the North Carolina Connections Academy (with curriculum provided by the for-profit Connections Education, LLC, which is owned by the UK-based Pearson PLC). While K-12, Inc. also provides virtual homeschool curriculum, there is no connection between the North Carolina Virtual Academy and homeschooling. Even though they are taking all their classes at home, students in these schools are public school students and can’t be homeschool students for three reasons.
- The state provides funding for every student in the virtual charter school. The qualification that allows homeschools to operate as nonpublic schools is stated in Part 2 of article 39 Chapter 115C of the NC statutes. “It receives no funding from the State of North Carolina. (1979, c. 506; 1981, c. 423, s. 1.)”
- The scope and sequence of academic instruction is not determined by the student’s parents, legal guardians or member of the household as required by the state definition of homeschool (contained in Part 3 of article 39 Chapter 115C of the NC statutes.)
- There is no provision in NC statutes allowing a student to be dually enrolled as a public school student and as a nonpublic school student.
The bottom line is that students enrolled in NC Virtual Charter Schools are public school students and cannot be homeschool students.
NC Virtual Public School Classes
These classes were designed for NC public school students, but there is a provision in the statute that allows nonpublic school students to take these courses. Enrollment can be through local school districts that opt to allow for nonpublic school students to enroll for classes, or it can be through the NC Virtual Public School website.
Option 1) Through Local School Districts
If a homeschool student enrolls in a class through the local school district and wants to maintain his homeschool status, he is limited to one class per semester, and the homeschool must pay the tuition for the class. If the student enrolls in two or more classes through the school district, the tuition for those classes will be paid for by the school district using state per-pupil funds. By receiving funding from the state, the student is enrolled as a public school student and is not a homeschool student.
Option 2) Through NC Virtual Public School Website
By enrolling for classes via the NC Virtual Public School website, the student can sign up for as many classes as he can handle (normally four classes is considered a full load). The homeschool will pay the tuition for each class the student takes.
The best option for homeschool students wanting to take NC Virtual Public School classes is to enroll via the website, http://www.ncvps.org/.
Community College Dual Enrollment
The question often arises about how homeschool students are allowed to take community college classes tuition free since they are then taking money from the state. Dual enrollment statutes were passed after the nonpublic school statutes were passed, and the dual enrollment funding was specifically designated for all high school juniors and seniors, public and nonpublic students, who qualified for the program.
I have received frantic calls from several homeschool graduates who received their diplomas from virtual schools. The problem is that none of those schools are listed by DNPE as NC schools. Therefore, sometimes the diplomas are considered to be worthless. More employers and colleges are checking the veracity of the applications they receive and determining if the homeschool was in compliance with the law. If a student’s credentials are investigated, a diploma from an online academy may cause problems for NC homeshcool students.
While most students who take online classes never encounter any problems, there are several who do. Here are some examples of problems that have been encountered.
- One problem involved a homeschool graduate who had taken more than one NC Virtual Public School class through the Statesville Iredell Public Schools in his junior and senior years. Because he was enrolled as a public school student, and he didn’t graduate from the public school, the NC Department of Public Instruction had classified him as a dropout. He did not get the job because his homeschool diploma was not considered to be valid.
- Two homeschool graduates were not hired by one particular corporation because their diplomas were not from a NC recognized school. The corporation also wanted proof that the students had taken the annual nationally standardized test. Both graduates had diplomas from online schools outside of NC, and they could not provide proof they had taken the annual test.
- A brother and sister applying for city government jobs were rejected. When their diplomas were investigated, they were determined to be dropouts because the online school that issued their diplomas was not in the DNPE list of open schools.
- Others have been denied admission into the College of Charleston, the US Marines and the US Air Force for the reason cited above.
Parents who take advantage of online instruction can do four things to avoid some of the problems that some homeschool graduates have encountered.
- Parents should determine the scope and sequence of instruction for their children and choose the classes that fit that scope and sequence.
- Parents should keep a transcript of all the instruction that their children receive, including online classes. Even if the online school provides a transcript, it is important that they keep their own homeschool transcript up to date. The homeschool transcript can include how and where instruction outside the home was received. This is especially important for the high school years.
- The homeschool should issue a diploma to the graduating homeschool student. Make a copy of the diploma and retain it in the student’s records. Your child may receive a diploma from an online school, but, unless it is physically located in North Carolina, it is not a legally valid NC diploma. Diplomas from homeschools that have filed a notice of intent to homeschool with NC Division for Non Public Education (DNPE) are legally valid.
- Keep the records of your graduates indefinitely. Your school administration office is the only place those records can be found. NCHE and the DNPE receive numerous calls from homeschool graduates wanting copies of their diplomas or transcripts. Neither NCHE nor DNPE ever receive these records.
In NC, we have a wonderful homeschool law that gives homeschool parents many freedoms in selecting educational resources to put together the best program for each student. Online classes can be used as part of this program. However, when using online resources, we need to be knowledgeable about the NC homeschool law and how to use these classes wisely.