If your child is currently enrolled in a school, officially withdraw the child. Have something in writing proving you did this—either write a letter and sign it and email it to the school and get confirmation from them that it was received or take something in person to the school and get a copy of it with their “date received” stamp on it. (This can be important if the school continues to mark the student as absent and then tries to begin truancy proceedings.)
You have 30 days to officially register the child in some educational program. Feel free to take some time off to adjust to the new path in life. Consider researching “deschooling” (not quite the same as “unschooling”).
2. Register Your Child—2 options
A. Private School with a Homeschool Option (aka Umbrella School) (http://hillcrestacademyfreeschool.org)
Choose a Florida private school to enroll in—the school must be registered with the state as a private school. (This can be confusing as there are many places that offer classes that aren’t technically FL private schools.) Per Florida law, registration should involve sending a recent physical exam and immunization records (or an exemption form) and showing a copy of the child’s birth certificate. Some offer services such as grading assignments, tutoring, record-keeping, etc. Some do not.
Private schools are required to keep attendance (a certain number of days and hours required—totals vary by grade level) and educational records. Those schools that don’t keep educational records will tell officials that their teachers (aka homeschool parents) are. Always keep records of your child’s education. The schools might add additional requirements of their own.
B. Home Education
i. Letter of Intent
Send a letter of intent to the school district. Letter does NOT have to be on a district form. Include the child’s full name and date of birth, your full name, a mailing address, and your signature and tell them you intend to home educate your child according to Florida law.
Send it (email is recommended; taking it in person and getting a receipt can be a good option; certified mail is not recommended) to the school district’s home education contact. See http://www.floridaschoolchoice.org/…/district_list.asp…
Keep a copy for your records!
The date this letter is received by the district will be your child’s annual evaluation deadline for years to come.
Keep records of your child’s learning. These records (called a portfolio in FL law) must include: a log of educational activities, titles of reading materials, and samples of work. The law gives few details beyond that. Keep them in any fashion that works for you. Records don’t have to be daily, don’t have to be detailed, don’t have to be fancy. Keep them as simple as you like.
iii. Annual Evaluation
Once a calendar year, you will have to turn in proof that your home educated child had an annual evaluation showing that the child is making educational progress commensurate with ability (i.e., learning).
You, the parent, can choose from 5 options. Three of those are tests (either (1) testing in public schools during public school testing—contact the local school district ideally in January or February to arrange testing done with public school students on the public school schedule; this method is free but results are submitted automatically so there’s no chance to re-do if something goes wrong, (2) testing with a nationally-normed achievement test administered by a FL (regular, i.e. professional-level) certified teacher, or (3) testing with a psychologist). Another evaluation option is a portfolio review—a FL certified teacher with current, regular (aka professional) certification looks over some of your records to verify that the child’s been learning—this should be low-stress as you can teach using any methods or materials you like and doesn’t involve a test; this is the type of evaluation I provide. The final option is anything else that the parent and district agree upon; for example, some districts will accept a copy of a grade report from FLVS (Florida Virtual School) as the evaluation.
The evaluation must be submitted by the parent. (The district never has the right to do an evaluation. As long as the child is learning and records have been kept, passing the evaluation should not be an issue.)
C. What’s the Difference?
Both are legal options for homeschooling in Florida. You’ll find homeschoolers who are passionate about both options. You’ll find a lot of misinformation about both options, too. Take your time to research and choose.
Those who send in a Letter of Intent are legally home educated. Under Florida law, districts can NOT add additional requirements to home education law. The district will NOT tell parents what to teach—Florida doesn’t even have required subjects. Florida law only requires sequentially progressive instruction—i.e., that lessons gradually become more advanced—and educational progress commensurate with ability. Florida law has protections that allow home education students access to extracurricular public-school programs (such as marching band, football team, robotics team, etc.), testing (including career testing options, AP exams, and any other tests offered by public schools), completely free dual-enrollment college courses (even books paid for with tax dollars), and their graduation must be recognized by Florida state-supported colleges if the parent signs an Affidavit of Completion.
Those in umbrella schools are private school students under Florida law. The private school may add additional requirements, but might not require evaluations. Private schools may provide services beyond keeping attendance and educational records, but might not. They will require a student’s birth certificate, school health form, and immunization records (or waiver forms) to get started. Research each private school carefully to see what they offer, how long they plan to stay in business, their policies and procedures, etc. Umbrella schools are private schools and subject to laws regarding private schools; proposed laws regarding increased immunization requirements for private schools (or any other proposed law) would apply to umbrella schools.