Austin Area Homeschoolers
Newcomers' Guide

"Is it 'legal' for me to homeschool my child in Texas?" The short answer is: "Yes!" The state of Texas puts very few restrictions on homeschooling families. A bona fide homeschool has been defined as a private school by the Texas Supreme Court (Summer 1994). Since local school districts have no authority over private schools, homeschoolers rarely need to deal with their local school system. The Texas courts have said that your homeschooling curriculum must include the following subjects: reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics, and good citizenship.
    You can choose your own curriculum, or you can develop one yourself. You are not required to have your curriculum approved by any governmental or private authority. No one is likely to ask to see your homeschooling records, but it is a good idea to maintain some sort of account of your children's work. This can be in the form of a simple notebook with daily entries, or it can be as detailed and complex as you want. You might also want to keep a portfolio of the students' work. Standardized tests are not required for Texas homeschool students. (If you want to use these tests, you can purchase them from various suppliers, who are listed in the "Resources" section of this Guide.) You are not required to follow the schedule and calendar that the local public schools use.
    If your children have never attended public schools, you do not need to register with anyone, and you do not need to notify any governmental agency that you are homeschooling. 

Withdrawing Your Child From Public School
If you are removing your children from the public school system, you need to inform their school that you are now sending them to a private school (Homeschools are private schools in Texas), that you are aware of the laws, and that you are in compliance with them. (Without this notification, the schools might send a truant officer to your home, thinking your children are skipping school.) A suggested format for such a letter can be found below. 
    Please note that you do not need to wait until the end of a semester or the end of a grading period to withdraw your child. Base the timing on your child's needs, not on the school's schedule.
    After receiving notification, the school may send you a questionnaire. You do not have to fill this out beyond stating that you are in compliance with the law (that you have a written curriculum designed to meet basic education goals of reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics and a study of good citizenship, which you are pursuing in a bona fide manner). Experience has shown that it is best not to go to the school, nor to have school officials come to your home. Simply request that everything be sent to you in writing, and politely reply in the same manner.

Sample Letter to School District
This is a sample letter for parents to use as a model as they prepare their own individual letters to their local school, either in response to an inquiry or in order to withdraw a child from the school. Please retype this letter in your own words, varying the content to fit your own specific situation.

Sample Letter (opens in a new window for printability)
 

Homeschooling Laws in Texas
The following is a summary of the statutory and case laws that address homeschooling issues. If you want to look up the laws yourself, you can find the Texas Civil Statutes on the second floor of the downtown location of the Austin Public Library. You can also check the legal information on the website of the Texas Education Agency at www.tea.state.tx.us

Texas Education Code
The following sections of the Texas civil law are pertinent to homeschooling. 

Section 25.085. Compulsory School Attendance
(a) A child who is required to attend school under this section shall attend school each school day for the entire period the program of instruction is provided.
(b) Unless specifically exempted by Section 25.086, a child who is at least six years of age, or who is younger than six years of age and has previously been enrolled in first grade, and who has not completed the academic year in which the child's 18th birthday occurred shall attend school. 
(c) On enrollment in prekindergarten or kindergarten, a child shall attend school.

Notes of Decisions
6. Home school
Home school can be private school within meaning of statutory exemptions to compulsory attendance law, so long as children are taught in bona fide manner from curriculum designed to meet basic education goals; although use of standard achievement tests can be considered in ascertaining whether home school is being taught in bona fide manner, use of such tests cannot be determining factor. Texas Educ. Agency v. Leeper (Sup. 1994) 893S.W.2d 432 . . .

Section 25.086. Exemptions

(a) A child is exempt from the requirements of compulsory school attendance if the child:
(1) attends a private or parochial school that includes in its course a study of good citizenship . . .
(5) is at least 17 years of age and (b) has received a high school diploma or high school equivalency certificate . . .

Section 25.091. Powers and Duties of Attendance Officer 
(a) A school attendance officer has the following powers and duties:
(1) to investigate each case of unexcused absence from school; . . .
(6) (b) A school attendance officer may not enter a private residence or any part of a private residence without the permission of the owner or tenant except to serve lawful process on a parent, guardian, or other person standing in parental relation to a child to whom the compulsory school attendance law applies.
(6)(c) A school attendance officer may not forcibly take corporal custody of any child anywhere without permission of the parent, guardian, or other person standing in parental relation to the child except in obedience to a valid process issued by a court of competent jurisdiction.
 

Leeper Case
In Texas, homeschooling has not always been recognized as a legitimate form of private schooling. As recently as the 1980s, some school districts attempted to prosecute homeschoolers for truancy. The class action suit, Leeper v. Arlington Indep. School Dist., No. 17-88761-85 Tarrant County 17th Judicial Ct. Apr. 13, 1987, resulted in a trial level decision in favor of homeschooling. After several years of appeals, that decision was upheld by the Texas Supreme Court in 1994. 

Excerpt From Lower Court Judgment in Leeper Case
"It is, THEREFORE, ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that a school-age child residing in the state of Texas who is pursuing under the direction of a parent or parents or one standing in parental authority in or through the child's home in a bona fide (good faith, not a sham or subterfuge) manner a curriculum consisting of books, workbooks, other written materials, including that which appears on an electronic screen of either a computer or video tape monitor, or any combination of the preceding from either (1) a private or parochial school which exists apart from the child's home or (2) which has been developed or obtained from any source, said curriculum designed to meet basic education goals of reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics and a study of good citizenship, is in attendance upon a private or parochial school within the meaning of Section 21.033(a)(1) of the Texas Education Code and exempt from the requirements of compulsory attendance at a public school."

Ruling by the Texas Supreme Court on the Leeper Case
quoted from The Texas Supreme Court Journal, Vol. 37, No. 31, June 18, 1994
Texas Education Agency et. al. v. Leeper et al.

"This case involves the question of whether the educating of a child at home meets the requirements of the Texas school attendance laws . . .The Supreme Court . . .says: "From the record before us, we conclude that the district court's declaration of the meaning of 'private school' . . .as it relates to home schools, is clearly correct . . .the T.E.A. is not precluded from requesting evidence of achievement test results in determining whether children are being taught in a bona fide manner."[The Supreme Court overturned the permanent injunction, saying it was unnecessary since the school districts were now expected to comply with the court's ruling. On all other issues, the judgment of the court of appeals was affirmed.]

Letter from the Texas Education Commissioner
Text of a letter from Jim Nelson, Commissioner, Texas Education Agency, as posted on the web site of the Texas Education Agency (www.tea.state.tx.us). This letter was addressed to local school administrators.

January 14, 2000

TO THE ADMINISTRATOR ADDRESSED:
SUBJECT: Home Schools

The issues surrounding students schooled at home continues to be of significant interest to parents and school districts. Because of the number of inquiries the Texas Education Agency continues to receive regarding this matter, I am providing some general information with respect to the Agency's position on home schooled students.

The decision rendered in Leeper vs. Arlington clearly establishes that students who are home schooled are exempt from the compulsory attendance requirement to the same extent as students enrolled in private schools. School districts which become aware of a student who is potentially being home schooled may request in writing a letter of notification from the parents of the student regarding their intention to home-school the student. This letter may require assurances that the home-school curriculum is designed to meet basic education goals including reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics, and a study of good citizenship. Please note that a letter of this type is not required each year.

Additionally, it has been brought to my attention that there may be some confusion with respect to the awarding of transfer credit from students who have been home schooled. Students transferring from home schools should be afforded the same treatment as students transferring from unaccredited private schools. Awarding of credit for courses taken may be determined by reviewing the curriculum and/or work of the student, or by using appropriate assessments. When appropriate assessments are used for determination of placement, the passing standard for those students who have been home schooled should be no higher than the standard required of students transferring from unaccredited private schools. As the Texas Education Agency has stated in the past, school districts may assess students by administering valid and reliable assessment instruments. The determination of whether or not to use such an instrument is a local matter. Districts may place students according to a review of the curriculum, course of study, and work of the student coming from a home school environment.

If assessments are utilized for determining placement, the agency would suggest the following guidelines for assessing students:
1) Elementary students should be assessed by means of a nationally recognized norm-referenced test or by a previously released TAAS exam of appropriate grade level.
2) Secondary students may be assessed using the credit-by-examination methods for individual subject areas.
3) A secondary student assessed using the credit-by-examination method should be given adequate time to prepare for the test, particularly if multiple examinations are required.

Finally, there has been some concern that school districts are contacting Child Protective Services regarding children who are being home-schooled. While school officials should contact an appropriate agency in instances of abuse or neglect of a child, the determination of whether compulsory attendance has been violated should be made by the school district or local judicial authorities.

It is my hope that the aforementioned policy statements will help to alleviate any confusion with respect to the issues surrounding notification, placement and the awarding of credit to previously home-schooled students. Thank you for your attention to these matters.

Sincerely,
Jim Nelson
Commissioner of Education
 

Sources for Further Information on Homeschooling Laws:
You may obtain information about the legal aspects of homeschooling from these sources:

The Texas Education Agency, 1701 North Congress Ave., Austin, TX 78701-1494, (512) 463-9734. www.tea.state.tx.us

The Home School Legal Defense Association, PO Box 2091, Washington, D.C. 20013. For a yearly fee, they will provide some limited legal services in some situations. Read their agreement carefully to see what your money is buying, since this is not legal insurance, and HSLDA will not represent homeschoolers against all legal challenges to homeschooling. Also note the that this organization supports many political activities. Before sending them money, you might want to be sure you agree with the candidates they support and the efforts they make to pass new homeschooling legislation in various states. It is not necessary to join HSLDA in order to homeschool safely and without harassment in Texas, even though some other homeschooling support groups may imply that such a membership is mandatory. Talk with other AAH parents to get information and opinions that will help you decide whether or not the HSLDA will meet your needs.) www.hslda.org

Austin's Day-Time Curfew for Teens 
There is a daytime and evening citywide curfew for minors in Austin. The ordinance applies to minors under 17 years old. The citywide curfew hours are 11:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. on weeknights and 12:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. on weekends. On weekdays when school is in session, the curfew also applies 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. During these hours, minors are not allowed to "remain, walk, run, idle, wander, stroll, or aimlessly drive or ride about in or upon any public place." 

If a policeman apprehends a homeschooler, the child can be taken into custody. Experienced homeschoolers have noted that, while several of the "defenses" (listed below in the text of the ordinance) apply to homeschoolers, none of these will necessarily prevent a police officer from taking a child into custody. Instead, these defenses can be presented to a judge to avoid conviction and/or a fine. 

Following are the pertinent sections of the City Ordinances (as posted on this web site). Ordinances are quoted verbatim, although portions of the law that have little relevance to homeschoolers have been omitted from this publication. Where this is the case, an ellipsis (...) shows that text has been omitted.
TITLE X: OFFENSES AGAINST PERSONS OR PROPERTY
CHAPTER 10-7: NON-EMERGENCY CURFEWS

§ 10-7-1 DEFINITIONS

For purposes of this chapter, the following words and phrases shall have the meanings ascribed to them as indicated....[Editor's Note: The ordinance here defines three specific curfew areas (in downtown and in southeast Austin) and terms such as emergency, parent, public place, etc.]...

§ 10-7-2 OFFENSES

. . . (C) (1) It shall be unlawful for any minor to remain, walk, run, idle, wander, stroll, or aimlessly drive or ride about in or upon any public place or be on the premises of any establishment in the city between the hours of 11:30 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. of the following day on Sunday through Thursday and between the hours of 12:30 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday and 6:00 a.m. of the same day. When the following day is an Austin Independent School District holiday, the curfew hours shall be the same as on Saturday and Sunday. During the regular AISD summer recess, the curfew hours shall be the same as an AISD holiday...

(D) While school is in session, it shall be unlawful for any minor to remain, walk, run, idle, wander, stroll, or aimlessly drive or ride about in or upon any public place in the city between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.

(E) It shall be unlawful for the parent or guardian having legal custody of a minor to knowingly allow or permit the minor to be in violation of this chapter. Proof that the minor has two previous convictions for violations of this chapter shall give rise to the presumption that the parent or guardian did knowingly allow or permit the minor to be in violation of this chapter. For the purpose of this section a deferred adjudication is considered a conviction.

(F) The owner, operator, or any employee of an establishment located in the city commits an offense if he knowingly allows a minor to remain upon the premises of the establishment during curfew hours. . .

§ 10-7-3 DEFENSES

It is a defense to prosecution under § 10-7-2 of this chapter that:

(A) The minor is accompanied by his or her parent or spouse;

(B) The minor is on an errand authorized by his or her parent or spouse, or one made necessary by an emergency;

(C) The minor is moving by a direct route through a curfew area or to his or her home in a curfew area;

(D) The minor is in a motor vehicle involved in intrastate or interstate transportation or transportation for which passage through a curfew area is the most direct route;

(E) The presence of the minor is connected with or required with respect to a religious activity, educational activity or a business, trade, profession or occupation in which said minor is lawfully engaged;

(F) The minor is on the sidewalk of the place where such minor resides or on the sidewalk of either next-door neighbor not communicating an objection as to the presence of the minor to the police officer; or

(G) The minor is exercising First Amendment rights protected by the United States Constitution, such as the free exercise of religion, freedom of speech and the right of assembly.

(H) With respect to the hours between 9:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday only, it is a defense that the school which the minor attends was not in session, that the minor is a high school graduate or has equivalent certification, or that the minor is on an excused absence from his or her place of schooling.

(I) Defenses (C) and (F) above do not apply to violations of curfew hours of 9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

(J) It is a defense to prosecution under § 10-7-2(F) that the owner, operator, or employee of an establishment promptly notified the Police Department that a minor was present on the premises of the establishment during curfew hours and refused to leave after being requested to do so by the owner, operator, or employee. . .

§ 10-7-99 PENALTY.

(A) Any minor violating the provisions of this chapter shall be guilty of a Class "C" misdemeanor.

(B) Any other person violating this chapter shall be guilty of a Class "C" misdemeanor, which shall be punishable by a fine of not less than $50 nor more than $500. . . 
 

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