In Florida, homeschooling is a parent-directed activity which starts by filing the notice of intent. Sometimes called "independent" homeschooling, using the notice of intent is the state-approved method of home education, legal since 1984.
But, there are other ways for Florida students to learn from home, including district home learning programs (a public school option popularized during the pandemic), private tutoring programs, and enrollment in Florida private schools.
Florida private schooling is what this article is about.
WHAT IS A PRIVATE "UMBRELLA" SCHOOL?
Of the many private schools in Florida, some are brick and mortar, requiring students to attend classes in person. Other private schools are designed to allow students to learn primarily from home, or from wherever they may be. These may be private or parochial, but all approved private schools are properly registered with the Department of Education:
Learn-from-home private schools are sometimes called "umbrella schools", and the at-home nature can be appealing to certain families. As their name implies, umbrella schools provide a buffer for families seeking a school experience without direct involvement with a public school entity themselves. Umbrella schools are unique in that they offer a way to enjoy some of the benefits of homeschooling and some of the benefits of belonging to a school, at the same time. While umbrella school programs may vary, some families enjoy the freedom of choosing their own curriculum, while also receiving a private school diploma at the end.
There are important legal and procedural differences between using private umbrella schools and independent homeschooling, however. Some of these differences are explained in the next section.
DIFFERENCES: PRIVATE SCHOOLS & INDEPENDENT HOMESCHOOLING
In general, private umbrella school families are exempt from all traditional Florida homeschool requirements. Therefore, private school students are not required to have a student portfolio or annual evaluations each year.
On the other hand, private umbrella school families are required to follow the rules imposed by the private school instead. This may include providing personally identifying student information, submitting medical and immunization data, collecting daily attendance, and schooling for 180 days per year. Some private schools have additional requirements, too, including a monthly or annual tuition fee.
Umbrella schools each have their procedures for collecting data, thus steps may look a bit different from school to school. But, when comparing that data collection to assembling a portfolio and conducting an annual evaluation, is it easy to see how the requirements of independent homeschooling are very different.
We have explored the major differences between umbrella schools and homeschooling, but there are additional considerations that parents are encouraged to understand. These include the level of services provided by individual umbrella schools, and gaining access to state and local services that independent homeschoolers have the right to enjoy.
While many umbrella school programs already provide access to these programs, and some have recently been legislated to include private school students, if these programs are desired, we encourage families to explore whether their private umbrella school offers access to:
Florida Virtual School
Florida Bright Futures Scholarship
School testing and/or services for unique students
Participation in clubs and sports
Also, some families tell us a primary reason for selecting a private umbrella school is to receive an accredited education and/or gain access to high school graduation ceremonies and diplomas. If these are important features, we also recommend asking potential umbrella schools if these are available.
CHANGING OPTIONS LATER ON
The decision to homeschool independently versus enroll in a private umbrella school is not irreversible. There is no right or wrong schooling decision for Florida families, and parents must choose what they feel is right for their students.
Should parents select one option, then decide to switch later on, it is easy enough to do. Since there are legal differences and sometimes decisions that impact students (high schoolers seeking college Bright Futures, for example) however, we recommend talking to an FLHSA expert to fully understand the process.