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Withdrawing a child from school in Pennsylvania doesn't have to be difficult

When Public School Isn’t Working for Your Child

Parents decide to withdraw their child from public school in order to homeschool for many reasons, including health issues, academic or learning difficulties, behavior problems or bullying.

When the decision is accompanied by some form of stress on your child, the decision can be even more difficult because parents don’t want to add to their child’s stress by making such a drastic change. Even when withdrawing a child from school appears to be the best option, it may be difficult to explain your decision to friends and family or school personnel or your child may not be agreeable. Finally, you may be concerned about facing truancy charges if you don’t file the proper paperwork.

This article should reassure you that the legal filing requirements can be simple and straightforward and shouldn’t discourage you from withdrawing your child from school. As long as you meet the basic qualifications to educate your child at home, 1) you earned a high school diploma or its equivalent and 2) you or any adult living in the home hasn’t been convicted of any of the crimes listed here within the past five years, you may educate your child at home.

Basic Procedures

The procedures for withdrawing your child from school and beginning a home education program are pretty much the same as if your child had never attended. You need to file a notarized affidavit of intention to homeschool, a list of objectives for either elementary (grades 1-6) or secondary level (7-12) and evidence of health services. Since proof of immunizations and other health services were required before your child attended school, a simple statement within the affidavit or a simple letter attached to the affidavit referring to the records the school has on file should be sufficient.

School Forms and Timing

The school may have withdrawal forms and it’s ideal if you can submit the affidavit and a list of objectives simultaneously with signing those forms. Although the homeschool law does not require you to sign the school’s paperwork or provide additional notice (for example to the school your child attends within the district), doing so may avoid confusion and potential truancy charges (which is extremely rare).

If you’re concerned about your child’s safety, keeping him home while you prepare the affidavit shouldn’t cause a problem, as long as you submit it within a reasonable time. I wouldn’t wait more than a week.

The affidavit and sample objectives provided on the forms page of this website can be printed and submitted as is or you can use them as guidelines to prepare your own.

The Affidavit

If you print and complete the affidavit provided on this site, be sure to sign it in the presence of a notary. Some places where notaries are on site include the bank where you do business, your local state representative’s office (free), AAA or a title transfer business. I’ve even seen mobile notary services, although you should be able to find a notary that charges less than a mobile service would.

You are not required to submit a high school diploma or GED with your affidavit. The statement on the affidavit that you earned a high school diploma or its equivalent satisfies the requirement. If the school district argues that you must attach it, contact the Pennsylvania Department of Education, which has made it clear that the statement on the affidavit is sufficient.

Dealing with Administration

Chances are, school personnel will discourage you from withdrawing your child, which I think is an appropriate response. Likely, you’ve already met with one or more administrators to discuss the problems your child is having. Although it’s appropriate and expected that administrators would try to encourage you to keep your child enrolled, it is completely inappropriate to for anyone to imply that homeschooling will somehow harm or damage your child. Homeschooling is a great alternative to conventional education in spite of your level of education, income level, family size, or other factors that may be unique to your situation. The fact is, homeschooling can work under many circumstances.

Objectives: What and How

Let’s talk about the “list of objectives” that your required to attach to the affidavit.

You may be wondering how you can submit a list of objectives if you’re not sure what you’re required to teach (because you haven’t had time to research) or you’re not sure what materials you’ll use to cover the subjects.

I advocate submitting very general objectives. My forms identify each of the subjects required for the elementary years on the elementary objectives and the subjects required for the secondary grades on the secondary objectives. Even the Pennsylvania Department of Education acknowledges that not all subjects are required every year. The law requires that each subject is covered once during that time frame. For example, Pennsylvania history is identified as a subject to be covered in the elementary years. However, most schools cover PA history once during the elementary years, which is fine for homeschoolers, too. Although most cover it a couple of times because most areas are so rich in history. So much of US history includes notable events and people in Pennsylvania.

Although you are entitled to use textbooks from the district, you are not required to rely on these materials or follow the “PA Standards” or “Common Core”, which are so thoroughly touted and implemented in Pennsylvania public schools. The homeschool law clearly gives parents the liberty to choose their own materials and method of covering the required subjects.

Once you file, it’s fine to take a few days or weeks to decide what curriculum to use. It’s fine to let your child decompress and just read or listen to great books, choose magazines on a topic that interest him, play games, get outside as much as possible, create art, watch educational videos, cook together, do a home project, visit museums or other interesting sites in your area. Each of these activities are educational and you can include them in your log.

My point is, you are not required to mirror the public school model or schedule of education. You have the freedom to learn about your child’s optimal way of learning and accommodate it.

Extra Requirement For A Child With Special Needs

If your child has been identified as needing special education services, the program must address the specific needs of the exceptional student in the home education program and must be approved by a teacher with a valid certificate from the Commonwealth to teach special education or a licensed clinical or certified school psychologist. The approval letter should be submitted with the affidavit. Please note that this is the only additional filing requirement for special needs students. The evaluator you choose at the end of the year does not need special education certification.

If your child already has an IEP in place, the program can incorporate these elements adapted to the home environment. If your worried that the school psychologist or special education teacher in your district won’t approve your plan or program, your health care provider can recommend a clinical psychologist or any PA certified special education teacher can approve your plan. If you’re having difficulty locating someone to approve your plan, please contact me. Although I’m not qualified to approve a special education plan, I can refer you to someone who is qualified under the law.

Satisfying the Time Requirement

The homeschool law allows you to count days (180) or hours (900 for elementary, 990 for secondary) of instruction. You may count the hours or days your child has already attended the public school. You are not required to submit lesson plans or a calendar of your days. The statement on your affidavit that the home education program will comply with the law is sufficient. Some people check off days or keep some other basic record for their own purposes.

Discussing Your Decision With Disapproving Family Members and Friends

You may be worried about defending your decision to withdraw your child from school with confused family members. This may be more difficult if you’re still anxious and confused about your decision.

The most important consideration is whether your child and your spouse (if applicable) are on board. Once the three of you are on the same page, your chances of success are improved dramatically.

Understand that most people don’t know anyone who home schools and their opinions about it are based on misinformation and stereotypes. The best approach is to acknowledge their concern and tell them that you have the same worries. Tell them that you’ve considered all your options and that you feel that you have to take action. Reassure them that if homeschooling is a disaster, you’ll try something else.

Well-meaning family and friends worry that your child will be isolated and lonely, unsocialized, unable to function in the real world, or that you won’t be able to cover the different subjects adequately. These are all valid concerns but depending on your reasons for wanting to withdraw your child, he likely is suffering from one or more of these problems at school. If you address the typical concerns that people have (and likely you have them, yourself), you’ll likely disarm the most critical opinions and may even recruit some supporters.

I’ve responded to disapproving friends and relatives with humor.

What Next

Assuming you’ve filed an affidavit, a list of objectives, evidence of health services requirements (which should already be on file at the school) and a special education plan (if appropriate), you should take a week or two to adjust to your child being home. Although you don’t have to jump right in to a full academic schedule, you should discuss some basic expectations. You should limit screens and encourage your child to adopt some good habits to get his day off to a good start.

You’ll be required to submit a portfolio at the end of the year which will include a log, samples of your child’s work in the various subjects, results of standardized tests if your child is in 3rd, 5th or 8th grade, and an evaluation. I know this seems overwhelming but if you approach it step-by-step, compiling the materials for a portfolio can be pretty painless.

The articles and resources on the site will help you plan and prepare the portfolio. You can also download my book, “Homeschooling in Pennsylvania: How to Comply With the Law in 8 Easy Steps”  which presents the same information in step-by-step format, but put that on the back burner for a week or two. (The good news is, you’ve already completed the first three steps)

Written by BethPhillips