HOME-BASED EDUCATION IN AN ALABAMA PRIVATE SCHOOL
Because there has been A LOT of information circulating on Social Media around home schooling and the law in Alabama we asked HSLDA to 1) clarify how the State Superintendent has interpreted the law AND 2) what the Law actually requires. Opting to home school under the private school option places students under the authority of their local school superintendent & school board, and requires regular attendance reporting, in addition to specific subject requirements and provision of immunization records.
Alabama law requires “every child between the ages of six and 17 years” to “attend a public school, private school, church school, or be instructed by a competent private tutor for the entire length of the school term.” Ala. Code § 16-28-3(a). This law, combined with legislation that took effect in 2014, means there are now three home education options recognized in the Code of Alabama: (1) attendance at a church school; (2) attendance at a home-based private school, and (3) instruction by a competent private tutor (must be an Alabama-certified teacher).
(The following does not apply to Church Schools, such as Hope Christian School)
This memorandum will address the second (private school) option due to 2014 statutory changes and their various interpretations, sparked by a document posted by the Interim State Superintendent of Education in 2016 detailing his interpretation of these changes. This document has since been removed from the Alabama State Department of Education’s (ALSDE) website, and we have received clarification that the current administration does not support its content.
In 2014 (through Act 2014-245) the Alabama Legislature modified the definition of a private school to include “home programs” and eliminate the requirement that private schools hold a certificate from the State Superintendent of Education showing that the school met certain standards, including teacher certification, instruction in the “branches of study” taught in public school, and detailed attendance records. This created an option for families to establish and provide education in their own home-based private school.
The current definition of a private school is as follows: “PRIVATE SCHOOL. Includes only such schools that are established, conducted, and supported by a nongovernmental entity or agency offering educational instruction in grades K-12, or any combination thereof, including preschool, through on-site or home programs.” Ala. Code § 16-28-1(1).
The Legislature affirmed its support for parents’ right to homeschool by stating that “[a] parent or guardian shall have the right to select the type [of] school or method of his or her choice for the K-12 education of his or her child, whether public or nonpublic, religious or nonreligious, and including home-based education.” Ala. Code § 16-1-11.2(a) (emphasis added).
The Legislature emphasized the autonomy of this right in the next subsection: “Nonpublic schools, including private, church, parochial, and religious schools, offering educational instruction in grades K-12, as well as home-schooled students, are not subject to licensure or regulation by the state or any political subdivision of the state, including the State Department of Education.” Ala. Code § 16-1-11.2(b) (emphasis added).
While these changes leave no doubt that parents may continue to educate their children at home, the Legislature did not change the compulsory school attendance law which requires attendance at a public, private, or church school, or instruction by a private tutor. Thus, the Legislature did not create a legally distinct homeschool option for complying with the compulsory school attendance mandate of section 16-28-3(a).
Additionally, section 16-1-11.3 expressly applies the provisions of Chapter 28, Title 16 relating to school attendance to “home-schooling entities.”
LEGAL OPERATION OF A PRIVATE SCHOOL
So what requirements do apply to home-based private schools? Three reporting requirements remain in statutory law: (1) yearly registration with the State Department of Education, (2) yearly enrollment reporting to the local county or city superintendent, and (3) weekly reporting of unexcused absences and/or changes in enrollment, if any. Private schools are also required to keep an attendance register (Ala Code § 16-28-8), require proof of immunization or a medical or religious exemption (Ala. Code §§ 16-30-3 and 16-30-4), and provide a system of physical education (Ala. Code § 16-40-1).
I. Private School Registration
Regarding yearly registration, section 16-1-11 requires “[a]ll private schools or institutions of any kind having a school in connection therewith, except church schools as defined in Section 16-28-1, shall register annually on or before October 10 with the Department of Education and shall report on uniform blanks furnished by the Department of Education.” Ala. Code § 16-1-11. The registration forms (“blanks”) must include statistics such as the number of pupils, the number of instructors, enrollment, attendance, course of study, length of term, cost of tuition, funds, value of property, and the general condition of the school.
The Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) takes the position that this registration requirement does not apply to home-based private schools because the type of information collected is clearly intended to apply to a brick and mortar facility rather than a home school environment. Thus, home-based private schools are not currently permitted to register with the state. Based on the state superintendent’s position and the practical reality that registration is not feasible, HSLDA does not deem it necessary for home-based private schools to register with the state in order for parents to utilize the private school option.**
II. Enrollment Reporting
Regarding enrollment reporting, section 16-28-7 contains yearly and weekly requirements: “At the end of the fifth day from the opening of the public school, the principal teacher of each public school, private school, and each private tutor, but not church school, shall report on forms prescribed by the State Superintendent of Education to the county superintendent of education … the names and addresses of all children of mandatory school attendance age who have enrolled in such schools; and thereafter . . . at least weekly the names and addresses of all children of mandatory school attendance age who enroll in the school or who, having enrolled, were absent without being excused, or whose absence was not satisfactorily explained by the parent, guardian, or other person having control of the child.” Ala. Code § 16-28-7 (emphasis added).
HSLDA recommends that private home-based education programs comply with the annual and weekly (when applicable) reporting requirements prescribed by section 16-28-7 of the Alabama Code (outlined above).
**Alabama law tasks the state superintendent with explaining “the true intent and meaning of the school laws and of the rules and regulations of the State Board of Education.” Ala. Code § 16-4-4. However, this role does not authorize the creation of new provisions or an interpretation that contradicts statutory provisions.