There has been much debate in homeschool circles over the past couple of years about whether families using virtual programs like K12 or the Connections Academy, offered through the public schools, are truly homeschoolers. Some of these discussions result in hard feelings, and leave many parents asking, “Why can’t we all just get along?”
As a homeschooler who works hard to get along with other parents regardless of their educational choices, I don’t like to see virtual schoolers offended or feeling left out. Online public school is a great option for many families, but it is important, especially for parents who are leaving conventional public school for the first time, to know all you can about your educational options, and to know where you stand in the eyes of the law.
Here are answers to a few questions that will help people to homeschool understand the essential differences between true homeschool and virtual public school, and to make the choice that is right for their own family.
Isn’t “homeschool” any kind of school at home?
Defining homeschool is not simply a matter of semantics. In most states, the term “homeschool” has been defined by the state legislature and it decidedly does not include public school students of any sort.
Even though both virtual public school students and homeschool students are learning at home, vastly different rules apply to the two groups under state statutes. So, legally speaking, homeschool is not just any kind of school done at home.
Don’t some homeschoolers use online curriculum?
Yes, many homeschoolers use a variety of online resources, and some even use a lot of the same curriculum that the virtual public schools provide. In fact, both K12 and the Connections Academy offer private options for a fee, including a full curriculum or individual classes, which some homeschoolers do use. But if families choose to use the free public school programs, they must be aware that those come with strings attached.
If I teach my kids at home, why can’t I call myself a homeschooler?
Both the K12 program and the Connections Academy make it clear on their websites that their virtual public school programs are not homeschool.
True homeschoolers are independently responsible for providing their children’s curriculum and teaching them the material they need to learn. They are legally recognized as their child’s primary teacher. Homeschoolers are free from many forms of government regulation imposed on public school students, but by the same token, they are often restricted from participating in public school offerings.
Parents who use virtual public school programs willingly agree to a high level of state regulation in exchange for free curriculum, access to certified teachers, and other benefits. But under these programs, they are not allowed to define themselves as their child’s teacher. Virtual public schools use state certified teachers, just like any other public school, as the primary instructors and define a parent’s role as auxiliary.
Why does it matter?
I’ve had other parents ask me why I care if someone else calls herself a homeschooler. Honestly, I wouldn’t care at all if the term weren’t a legal designation which guarantees true homeschoolers certain rights and freedoms under state laws. But as such, it should be protected.
The Home School Legal Defense Association, or HSLDA, emphasizes the need to make a distinction between homeschooling and virtual public schools. Their position states that a lack of distinction between virtual public schools and homeschools could negatively impact homeschoolers by confusing lawmakers and eroding the legal protections homeschoolers have fought for over the past decades.
The loose application of the term “homeschool” is something many informed homeschoolers oppose, not because we’re mean and want to exclude our virtual public schooling counterparts, but because we fought hard for our rights as homeschoolers and we intend to keep them. Those specific rights and freedoms from government regulation are not important to parents who choose a virtual public school program, but they are vitally important to true homeschoolers.
So please, virtual public schoolers, don’t be offended when we ask that you not call public school at home “homeschool.” It really does matter.
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