9 Jan 2013

“Exactly what classes can homeschool students take outside the home and still meet the North Carolina legal definition of homeschool student?” This is a question that has been frequently asked for many years of NCHE board members and staff, North Carolina Department of Non-Public Education (DNPE) personnel and homeschool leaders. The North Carolina statute says, “‘Home school’ means a nonpublic school in which one or more children of not more than two families or households receive academic instruction from parents or legal guardians, or a member of either household.” Getting a consistent answer to this question can be frustrating because there are several opinions on how the law is to be interpreted.

Since 1988, DNPE has taken the position that all core subjects (which they define as language arts, math, science and social studies) should be taught by the parents, guardians or members of the household with a high school diploma. They say that homeschool students can go outside the home for instruction in non-core subjects such as visual and performance arts, computer courses and foreign languages. It is only in recent years that they have allowed that homeschoolers can participate in co-ops and employ tutors and still meet the requirements of the law.

Several years ago, before DNPE changed their opinion about co-ops and tutors, we asked a homeschool friendly state senator to get an off-the-record opinion from the state attorney general regarding classes outside the home, co-ops, tutors and concurrent classes at community colleges. We asked for an off-the-record opinion because we didn’t know what position the attorney general would take, and an on-the-record opinion carries the weight of law. The opinion rendered was that all classes, core and non-core, should be taught by the parents, guardian or member of the household. They allowed for concurrent enrollment in community colleges because that statute was passed after the homeschool law.

NCHE has consulted with several lawyers and legislators, and we think that homeschoolers have more flexibility when it comes to the instruction of their children. We have always believed that students can participate in a weekly one day co-op where their parent/teacher contributes in the instruction or take part in a science or writing class with other students and still be in compliance with the law.

There are three ways of getting more clarification about co-ops and outside classes for homeschool students: 1) test the law in a court case, 2) get an on-the-record attorney general’s opinion and 3) request that clarifying language be added to our current law. I don’t know of any homeschool family who is willing sue the state and go to court; and an attorney general’s opinion may severely limit a homeschool parent’s flexibility; so the best solution, in this case, is to change the law.

However, NCHE has not sought to change the wording to our law because we have been concerned that homeschool opponents would take the opportunity to add more regulations for homeschoolers. (We have dealt with several attempts to add more regulations to the homeschool laws over the years.) Another reason is that even though there is a lot of angst over these interpretations of the law, homeschoolers have been pretty much free to homeschool as they see fit. Many of us have taken advantage of outside classes by being quiet about them when communicating with DNPE and have not experienced any negative ramifications.

The results of the November elections have opened up an opportunity to revisit the law. We now have a house of representatives, a senate and a governor who seem to be homeschool friendly. We are now evaluating our chances of getting clarifying language added to our homeschool law while avoiding more regulation. If we deem that it will be possible to get our law amended without endangering our freedom, we will proceed with plans to accomplish that. One part of the process will be giving you instructions on what to discuss with your legislators on NCHE Capitol Fest day in Raleigh on March 12. Start now to plan your trip to Raleigh!