February 18, 2023
I have had a lot of conversations with other parents lately and have been researching for our own family about schooling for our kiddo. Many of us are wondering about options. For so long, we could only choose between public school and private school, with little to no influence over things, even if we were actively involved in the PTA or the school.
But there is so much more out there, if you dig, know what questions to ask, and ask enough questions to find answers. I am by no means an expert, I’m barely above a novice outside of public school. But I wanted to give you a starting point on resources and options. This information is entirely based on my home state of Florida. If you live in a different state, please research your own state as these can vary greatly.
If you choose an option outside of public or private school, in Florida, you can still have your child involved in extracurricular activities at the local school, so don’t think that they won’t have access, they can!
If you are military, know these options do exist for you, as well, based on your home of record, so the on base DOD school isn’t your only option either.
If you are a nomadic or full-time RV family, but have a home as a home base, you may also be able to use these options, but it will depend on your situation–you will need a physical home in the school district and a utility bill or lease agreement with whomever you stay with when at home.
PUBLIC SCHOOL This is the most common option. For many, this is the best choice since it is free and provides supervision for your child during the day while you are working. Students will need to complete learning within predetermined time limits based on the school calendar, academic learning maps from the school district, and other state mandated lessons (health, bullying, smoking, etc.) that are worked into the curriculum. Class sizes and school assignment will be based on state guidelines. Students will participate in state standardized testing and will be placed in class levels based on these scores. While you do have the option to opt out, it can be difficult to do so and there can be challenges, such as limited opportunity to advanced classes. If this is something you are interested in doing, research your state, find the opt out coalition and talk to them, and openly communicate with your teacher and guidance counselor so proper documentation can be kept for promotion.
PRIVATE SCHOOL This option is often the alternative families choose when they don’t want to opt for public school. Many private schools are based on religion, so faith-based education is incorporated into their daily learning. There is often a tuition involved with this option. However, some private schools do also accept government funding for education for incorporating certain aspects, such as state standardized testing, scholarships for students that can’t afford tuition, and other public school requirements. When choosing a school, be sure to ask questions about their funding and state compliances so you know if this is something you will need to consider. From some friends I know that chose private schools that did these things, they often felt like it was just like public school, except they could have religion and were paying tuition for it.
VIRTUAL SCHOOL This option means your child will do all of their education via online classes. In our state, there are both full time and flex options, and there are school district virtual schools as well as a separate school district that is entirely virtual. In full time, they will have structured times, days and classes to take and follow a school calendar with deadlines–it is a public school so will follow similar aspects of private school, including state testing and mandated lessons. The flex options allow you to choose which classes, how many at a time, and when your child will work, reaching out for support from their teacher as needed, or to comply with communication requirements. So long as you meet the grade level requirements to complete/graduate from that level you have control. There will be course records and transcripts and state standards for you to keep on file and show documentation of complying with requirements. You can also decide on state testing options as well, but be sure to communicate with the virtual guidance counselor and your school district’s home school options to be clear.
HOMESCHOOLING If you are able to keep your child at home with you or a family member, this is the option that many choose. You are able to teach your children the content you’d like, in the time span you’d like, in a method that works with their learning style. There are a variety of curriculums to use, most require purchase, or you can create your own. This method often requires annual certification to be signed off on by a certified teacher or a homeschool liaison.
UNSCHOOLING (FLORIDA) This is a fairly new option and is gaining in popularity. This option is set up as a private school to which your provide minimal documentation to register, then you can enroll in a virtual school’s flex program. Because it is a private school, state standardized testing isn’t required and you only have to meet the minimum academic requirements. As of the date of this article, there is no fee for this, although donations are accepted since it is a small operation. As it gains in popularity, this could change.
RECORD KEEPING I recommend keeping excellent records, no matter which form of education you choose. The term used in the education system will be “portfolio”. Documentation of learning, grades, communications, etc. This is especially important if you are choosing one of the non-traditional methods other than public or private school. This can be a simple binder showing what was learned and when, scores, and work samples, at a minimum. Keeping a paper and digital copy is also recommended, so if you need to provide emailed documentation or there is a digital storage failure, you are prepared in both cases.
Whichever option you choose, be sure to withdraw your student from their current academic setting and enroll in the new option, or provide a letter of intent to the local district. Should you relocate to a new state or district as your permanent home of record, be sure to also update both the old and new districts with the information. This will save you time and headaches in the future.
Start Early!! I can’t stress this enough. Schools are always planning a semester ahead, this is a good idea for you, as well. If you are looking for changes the next fall, start exploring and getting set up in the spring before school is out for summer–this will make contacting people easier and save you the beginning of year crowds for those that do wait, or had to wait.
For the sake of length, I kept this pretty brief and focus on a preview of major options. Be sure to do your own independent research on enrollment for your county, graduation requirements, testing coordination and opting out, as well as specifics to your child’s grade level and any special needs they have. My first draft, I tried to include it all and it was just too much for one post.
None of this information is privileged and it is all available by public record and able to locate by a simple internet search, if you ask the right questions. This is by no means a comprehensive reference, but more a starting point to help you have more meaningful conversations with your family or your child’s school as you explore options. As with any information, things can change from year to year. Be sure to research further with your school district and the Department of Education so you have a complete picture.
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