One of our recent conference workshops discussed homeschool laws in Missouri and Kansas. The only problem (and it’s a good problem to have!) was that we didn’t have time to finish it, because of all the questions asked during the workshop!
As a result, we arranged for a Q&A with Scott Woodruff, Senior Counsel at Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), to finish his presentation on Missouri homeschool laws.
Transcript of conversation between Shanxi, MPE online content director, and Scott Woodruff
Shanxi: OK, Scott, take it away!
Scott: OK. Hello everyone, I’m Scott Woodruff, senior counsel of Home School Legal Defense Association, and it’s my pleasure to chat with you for a little while about Missouri homeschool law.
And my objective in talking with you this evening is to give you the confidence to know that you’re homeschooling in compliance with the law, so you never have to wonder, if there’s a knock at the door and a social worker shows up, or a policeman, or a truant officer, if you are complying with the law.
You want to have that locked down good and tight, so you can give your full, undivided attention to those wonderful kids you’re teaching. So let’s take a quick tour.
When do you have to start thinking about compulsory attendance age? And that is age 7. When does it end? Age 17. …
Here’s a rundown of what you have to do, and they are three:
- You need to keep track of work samples of your child.
- You need to keep a record of periodic assessments.
- You need to have documentation showing a thousand hours of instruction during the school term that you set.
Of that thousand hours, 600 have to be in what I’ll call core subjects, and the other 400 can be in the electives.
And the core hours are reading, math, social studies, language arts, and science. And there’s no component for what the electives can be; it can be anything you wish.
And it’s important that you actually write this down because the law does require some documentation of that. The way most people will do it, to get that down and be totally secure, is to write what’s called a daily log. And as the word daily implies, you do that every day.
So as you go along through the day, you take a notebook, or a form, or a spreadsheet, or a notepad, and you write, for example, “Math: 30 minutes. Or social studies: 45 minutes. Or language arts: 1 hour.”
And you do that during the course of the year, and then by the end of the school term that you set, you should have at least 1,000 hours.
And if you have that, then you have a very strong case if anyone tries to claim that you are violating compulsory law.
That’s a quick sketch. Now I’ll go back and fill in a few blanks:
I said compulsory age starts at 7, and that’s if your child is 7 when your school term begins. For example, if you want your school term to begin Sept. 1 and your child turns 7 in December, your child was not of school age or age 7 when your term began…
Another nuance at the other end … I told you compulsory age ends at 17. Little nuance: once your child hits 16, the records that you required that I mentioned briefly before – the work samples, the assessments, the logging of hours – that goes away.
So between when your child is 16 and 17, you can relax. You still need to educate them, but you don’t have to keep all those records.
Now, there’s one final part of the word on compulsory age. If you enroll a 5- or 6-year-old child in public school, he becomes subject to compulsory attendance at that point. The parents must request in writing that he be dropped once he enrolls.
Not too terribly bad, but you don’t want the other situation where your child is attending public school and starts to wrack up unexcused absences.
Because if you get in a situation like that, and you are charged with truancy, and then something really awful happens, then you go to court. And then something worse happens, and a judge says that you have violated the law, and they’re taking jurisdiction of your child. He might say, “And oh by the way, now you cannot homeschool.”
So if your child is one who suffers from anxiety, or who will not go to school, or being bullied or humiliated, or life is just miserable, and they just won’t or can’t go to school, don’t wait until the truancy problem gets significant. If you do, you may already have dug yourself a kind of hole.
If you see you have an attendance problem that’s not resolvable, you need to decide fairly soon if you’re going to go the other route, which is homeschooling. Don’t wait until you’re facing a court challenge.
Now, if a court challenge should come, it doesn’t mean you should give up hope. But it can make your life a lot more complicated.
Now, to fine-tune on the required subjects. As I mentioned before, they are reading, math, social studies, language arts and science. There is no particular division on those subjects that you need to have.
So, for example, you can have all 600 of your core hours on math. If you do that, I’ll personally report you for child abuse! Just kidding. But obviously, parents are going to want to distribute that according to the child’s interests and the parents’ vision of what a lawful education should be.
But nobody’s going to fault you, for example, for providing only 100 hours in social studies during the course of the year. That is within your discretion.
Another little nuance on the core hours or required subjects is that of the 600 hours that I said you needed during the school term, 400 have to be “within the regular homeschool location.”
Now, some of us – who knows where the regular homeschool location is because they go to a tutor, or they go to a co-op, or they take classes at the local community college, or they’re going on a tour of the country in the RV, going from Missouri to Seattle to Anchorage, Alaska. Who knows? …
Suffice it to say that you’re going to have to pick one [location], and in that one, you need 400 of your core hours, even if that makes your location your RV rolling across the fruited plains and purple mountains of America.
Now something you don’t need to know and we won’t spend much time on is that there is a definition of homeschool. But I’m not going to read that to you.
The only people who need you to think about that are the people who are operating a homeschool program that is starting to look like an institutional private school. In that case, they may not be able to establish themselves as a private school if they’re actually a homeschool. …
I get the question often [about recording evaluations], “What kind of evaluations of progress does that mean?” The law does not tell you. It simply says, “A record of evaluations of the child’s academic progress.”
So that could be, for example, spelling tests that you grade, math tests that you grade, essays you grade, projects you grade. Evaluations are something that says, you did well, you did bad, you did excellent. It’s not just a child filling out a work page and sticking it in a binder.
For it to be an evaluation, you have to evaluate it with some kind of mark on it, indicating of course that you have given the child some feedback on that report.
Now, it appears that some people are asked to file what’s called a voluntary notice of enrollment, and that is found in Missouri code 167.042. But don’t do it! Even though this notice of enrollment, or declaration of enrollment as it’s called, is an option, there’s essentially zero value to you doing that.
If you move to Missouri, don’t file the declaration of enrollment. You don’t need to. If you have a 4-, 5-, or 6-year-old, and you’re about to start homeschooling, don’t file the declaration of enrollment.
Now, if you have a child in public school, don’t just take them away one day and don’t say anything to the school. They will wonder where Johnny is. So would you if you were a conscientious parent.
If you’re going to take a child out of public school, give the school a courtesy notice. They want to know why Johnny’s not coming back, and it’s appropriate and very sound and safe for you to do so.
It can be a very simple letter, saying, “Dear Mrs. Smith, My son Johnny will no longer be attending your school. As of tomorrow, we will be homeschooling him as per Missouri law. Sincerely yours, ___.” And that will do it.
[Editor’s note: See a sample withdrawal letter recommended by Families for Home Education (FHE), including an IEP release letter for special needs children with an IEP.]
Schools occasionally demand that declaration of enrollment, but you should and probably want to just say, “No, thank you. We’ve already given you our notice, and that’s all we need to do.”
Now, I’ll give you a little fine point on enforcement. Like I said, there is no requirement that you file anything. For example, if you’ve lived in Kansas, you know that to homeschool there, you have to be registered as a private school. …
Missouri is one of about 15 states where you can actually homeschool without filing anything. You can just get up and go.
But there is a very clear enforcement process, and if you don’t comply with the law, you can be brought down over your head and shoulders rather quickly. The one thing that should not happen is, if the only complaint against you is that you’re homeschooling, a social worker should not be at your door because they do not have jurisdiction.
Under the statutes we have on the books, by the courtesy of Families for Home Education (FHE) a couple of years ago, if the only complaint is homeschooling, social workers have no jurisdiction.
In fact, the only person who has jurisdiction to investigate you at that point is the prosecutor. Now if you want to mention the prosecutor, you obviously don’t want to be disrespectful, but he does have the power to enforce it.
I will say that we have known families who have been taken to court. I know personally of one family who was taken to court, and the judge took jurisdiction of their son. And he did not release that till about two years.
So there’s that, even though you don’t have to file anything to start homeschooling, that should in no way lull you into a false sense of security that you can just sit back and disregard the law.
Know the law, do it diligently. That way you’re protecting your freedom and the freedom of all other homeschool families. …
Questions from the audience
- When logging hours and recorded lessons completed, can those be on the same form or do they need to be separated?
Scott: They can be on the same form.
- Since Missouri law doesn’t require school attendance until a child is 7 years old, could/should I homeschool a younger child without keeping records up until she is age 7 at the time when our school term begins?
Scott: My answer to that is that, the only time you can create an unnecessary complication for yourself is, if you treat a 6-year-old as if she is subject to the compulsory attendance law and begin keeping records – for example, if you say that your school term starts Sept. 1 and your child is going to turn 7 in October – but you actually start tracking 1,000 hours on Sept. 1.
And you start keeping track of samples and assessments. And then you get to the end of the year and you only have, say, 850 hours.
It’s possible that a court could go back and look at that and say, “Oh, your school term actually began when you began keeping records, because you were acting like that. Therefore, we’re going to hold you accountable for the full 1,000 hours during the year. And since you fell short, now we resolve that you have not satisfied the law.”
So that only applies if you have a child right on the borderline because if you begin acting like he is subject to the compulsory attendance law, that might say that yes, he is subject and your term has begun.
- Are required hours by the clock?
Scott: The hours of instruction are a unit of time. It is not a unit of instruction. It is not a chapter, it is not a unit in a book, it is not a page in a worksheet. An hour always means something measured by time.
For literally decades, I have heard people in Missouri say something like, “Well, we do one lesson, and we count that as one hour.” And I want to in the strongest terms say, “Please don’t do that. That will not carry weight in court.”
Because the requirement is not instruction, your requirement is time. And if you think about it, that’s actually a fairly reasonable way to do it.
We don’t really want the state, for example, telling us that you have to do 25 lessons in math this year. We don’t want the state saying, “You have to do 16 lessons in social studies.” That would be a level of interference none of us would enjoy.
Instead, it’s far simpler. You just spend a certain amount of time giving instructions, and you will be OK.
When the Missouri homeschool law was enacted around mid-’80s, at that time public schools were required to provide approximately 1,060 hours of instruction. And so our 1,000 hours of instruction was a slight discount off what the public school students had to do.
So for those of you who say, “Well, I’ll count it as an hour even though I only spent half an hour because I can get twice as much done,” that’s not going to fly.
The efficiencies of homeschooling do not allow you to take 30 minutes of instruction and call it one hour. Please don’t even try.
- How many work samples would you recommend we keep and how long should we keep the records?
Scott: Very good question. The law does not state how many samples. I think at a minimum, I would keep one per month for every required subject, every core subject. I think if you wanted to beef that up to a couple samples a month, that would be even better.
But at minimum, I would do one a month in every required subject.
As to how long to keep them, there are two parts to that answer. One is, when your child is in high school, the records you maintain at that point could be important to help in getting your child into college, get a job, or into the military.
So you want to keep those records until your child is well settled in his career.
You may have a child who, after high school, decides to be a waitress for five years, then go work at a horse ranch for five years, then take a vacation for a year, then lo and behold, they want to go work as an air control specialist in an airfield town.
Now, it becomes important to document what they did in high school. So, you want to keep those records until your child is well settled.
The NCAA can be a stickler on the content of your high school record. They’ve been known to say, “OK, I know your basketball star has geometry on his transcript, but show me the content of that geometry course.” And you want to be able to show that.
So for high school, and by that I mean the last four years, grades 9-12, keep those records until your child is well established in his career or lifelong ambition.
And you might even keep some more stuff – say, table of contents of books or reading lists – in case the NCAA or someone else wants to inquire behind the summary that’s on your transcript.
That’s part 1.
Part 2 is for kids who are in grades 1-8. Those are the elementary ages. Colleges don’t care what your child learned in the fourth grade, whether it was fractions, or decimals, or timekeeping, or expanded notation. But you will need those records if you are hauled into court. May it not be so, but it could happen.
So for those elementary years, I recommend at a minimum that you have your current records plus one school year and back.
So, for example, if you wanted to follow Scott’s minimum plan, you’d have all your 2015-16 school year plus all your records for 2014-15 safely stored in a box.
I’d probably feel better if you actually kept two school years of records in a box plus your current one, but in most circumstances I think you’ll be OK with one. But there is no clear statutory answer.
- I have a homeschool graduate. Do I need to keep all 12 years of his records? [Shanxi] I think you kind of answered that in saying your minimum plan is current records plus 1-2 school years back?
Scott: Right. And be sure to store those in a way that’s durable. For example, a computer is like a light bulb. One day it will go “dink!” and it will not work anymore. And if all your records are on that computer, all your child’s school records goes too.
If you keep your records in a basement anywhere near a river, the Missouri River, the Mississippi River, or any tributary thereof, you may get flooded. And if the flood wipes out your records, do not expect somebody to be merciful and say, “Oh, that’s all right. Don’t worry about it. You don’t really have to show us your records.”
So your job is to make sure your records are safe and sound. And it’s therefore your responsibility as a mature, wise, loving adult to keep those records in a secure place. Maybe even keep those somewhere else, just in case, as a backup.
So keep the records good and secure, and protect against flood and fire, and one day when your child gets old enough, say, “Barbie, I have a present for you. Here’s a trailer load full of your high school records. They are now yours to keep. Have a nice day.”
- Is it OK to count activities like church and baseball as non-core hours?
Scott: The watchword here is instruction. If you can safely claim that any activity is legitimately instructional, then yes, you can certainly count that.
Church – a good message, a good sermon – is incredibly instructional. Baseball can certainly be instructional. You’re learning PE while helping your body get stronger and learning skills that can benefit you for a lifetime.
So as long as you can put your hand on a Bible and swear in court that it is your sincere belief that it’s instructional, you can count it in the 400 elective hours.
Now at some point, routine stuff – you’re going to have a hard time counting it instructional.
Say, for example, you teach a 9-year-old how to make his bed. That’s instructional.
But once he’s 15, he knows how to make his bed. That’s not instructional any more. That’s just kind of chores.
So make sure you don’t have to be embarrassed or be a little bit skittish when you raise your hand about instruction.
- The HSLDA Missouri hours form spreadsheet has listed out the individual subjects in the core hours (e.g., reading, language arts, science, social studies, math). However, I think the law doesn’t say I have to keep track of the core hours individually, but only collectively. So is it acceptable/advisable to just track the core hours collectively and then have a separate daily log where I enter the subjects taught and activities engaged in? That way if I’m homeschooling several children it’s not as tedious to keep track of how long they spend in each subject.
Scott: Let me respond by saying that the phrase I’ve been using, “core hours,” or for that matter, core subjects, or for that matter, required subjects, that phrase is not in the law. We use those as a nickname.
The law doesn’t categorize them or call them anything. It simply says, “The home school must offer these 1,000 hours of instruction, 600 of which will be in reading, language arts, math, social studies and science.”
So I would be a little bit reluctant to simply put, for example, “2 core hours today.” Because it has no definition in court. It’s simply my nomenclature, your nickname, our collective way of referring to it.
However, for a large family – and I’ve spoken to families with 10 kids – and I can imagine the paperwork for tracking 1,000 hours is big.
An alternate method that could work could be if you kept a plan, and then kept very good records that you had accomplished it.
So you planned a day where every child had half an hour in every one of his subjects, and then for example, you put a check mark when you accomplished what your plan is, that’s the equivalent of documenting you did those hours.
So having a plan, and including some kind of documentation that you kept that plan, would suffice as long as the plan is written in time and not instruction.
If you wanted to go that route, don’t put, “All my 10 kids are going to get one math lesson today.” You need to put, “All my 10 kids are going to get half an hour in math today.”
Then put a check mark for each child, and that would be a good documentation that you’d accomplished that. …
For those of you who have really gifted children who you may feel may want to graduate from high school early, there is a way to be exempted early from the compulsory attendance law if you’ve given your child 16 statutory credits.
Now that’s an odd phrase, but what it means in the law is 100 hours of instruction in subjects that will lead to high school graduation.
So for most kids, that’s going to be kind of moot. They’re going to be graduating from your program about age 17 anyway.
But if you have an unusually bright child, and maybe they’re going to finish their 12th-grade work by the time they’re 14 or 15, you might truly want to keep track of their statutory credit so you can document that they are exempt from instruction once they have those 16 credits.
I don’t know of anybody who’s actually done that, but it certainly is a lawful opportunity for a bright child.
You may have a prodigy who’s going to finish high school at age 15, go to college, go to medial school, and it’d be nice if you could look down the issue that yes, you can get through the compulsory attendance law.
But for most folks, you can just totally forget that I mentioned the phrase statutory credits. It’s not going to apply to you.
- Are standardized tests necessary?
Scott: That’s a good question. As I mentioned before, the law says that you must keep a record of evaluations of the child’s progress, but it doesn’t say what kind of evaluation.
The standardized test is an excellent evaluation. If you’d like to go that route, I’d recommend one a year. That is certainly a credible, authentic, respectable way to check a child’s academic progress.
- For children with learning difficulties, both diagnosed and undiagnosed – is it necessary to document an IEP or SEP? Also, how helpful is it to seek official diagnosis?
Scott: Very good question. The homeschool laws apply to every child equally, regardless of whether he’s a weak learner, strong learner, special needs or if they need more than most other kids. You don’t need to have an IEP or an SEP.
However, let me throw in here that you actually have the right to the same level of special-education access as public schools. That’s in Missouri section 162.996. So, if you desire special-education services through the schools, you have an entitlement to that.
The second part of the question was whether it was desirable.
I can think of one scenario where it would be very helpful. Say for example that you have a child who just takes longer; he accepts that. Your child may get to the point where he’s taking college admission tests and wants what’s called an accommodation – generally a longer time to take the test.
If you think your child is going to need an accommodation like that on a college admission test, it’s very helpful to get that documented now, somehow, using some kind of live authority or expert or some source that will say yes, when he was in ninth grade, even back then, his condition required him to have an extra half-hour to finish the test.
The problem is if you get to take the ACT, and then three months before the schedule, you say, “Hey, I’d like to have an extra hour to finish the test,” they’re going to ask you to prove why they should do that.
And one element could be, “Did he need any accommodation before?” And if your answer is, “I don’t know. We just took longer in our homeschool,” that may or may not fly. …
You’re going to be much better off if you have some documentation from some expert saying that yes, this child needed certain accommodations even before he started sweating about his college reports.
- Follow-up question: Is it best to go through the school to get that diagnosis or is it best to seek a private practitioner?
Scott: I am going to bow out of that question because you just exceeded my knowledge base. I just don’t know.
… I’ll also mention that under Missouri law, fire departments, police departments and state agencies cannot discriminate in employment based on the fact that your child was homeschooled, as long as it was permitted under Missouri law.
So if you’re ever had difficulty with your child getting a job with a state or local government agency, give HSLDA a call or get somebody else to work on your behalf.
FHE enacted a very good statute several years ago, which prevents local and state agencies from that kind of discrimination. So don’t suffer in silence. Let the problem be known until you get a solution.
Shanxi: Is there anything you wanted to mention about membership with HSLDA? I did want to mention to everyone listening that HSLDA offers a $20 discount for an annual membership if you join MPE first, so you can check our website for more details on that.
Scott: HSLDA is a voluntary organization composed of homeschool families who said, “Yes, we would like to band together with families all across the country to protect the right to homeschool.”
And so they banded together, they gave $100 a year, and that allows the ministry of HSLDA to continue.
Our mission is to protect your right to homeschool, and if you are challenged in court or by a social worker, HSLDA should be your very first call if you are a member.
Our legal advocacy services are only available to members, so I do encourage you to call or go online and apply to join.
And once your application is completed and accepted, then HSLDA should be your very first call if you get a summons, or a complaint about education, or a social worker comes to your door.
And we would love to look at that very carefully and provide you all the help we can within normal operating procedures.
See more steps for starting a homeschool in Missouri.
This blog post was originally published in May 2016. It has been updated for timeliness and detail.