The Real Homeschool Letter of Intent Deadline

Around this time every year (June), a lot of parents start panicking about the letter of intent to homeschool (in New York State) because they think the deadline for it is July 1st for everybody whose “school-aged” kids won’t be in school come the fall.

In fact, there are two different deadlines – well, technically there’s a third, but that one was only relevant the very first school year the Regulations were in effect (1988-89).

Whether or not you have homeschooled previously, which of the two remaining deadlines applies to you ultimately depends (yes, it does!) on when you decide what you’re doing for the year (but do read to the end of this post so you don’t miss anything on why you might want to choose the earlier deadline even if you’re entitled to go by the later one).

Here’s a quote, from subsection “b” of the New York State Regulations on Home Instruction (for a link to the Regulations, and some context, you might want to read “How the Homeschool Regulations Really Work”, which you can access by clicking on “About NYS Regulations”): 

Notice of intention to instruct at home.

  1. Except as otherwise provided in paragraphs (2) and (3) of this subdivision, parents or other persons in parental relation to a student of compulsory school attendance age shall annually provide written notice to the superintendent of schools of their school district of residence of their intention to educate their child at home by July 1st of each school year. The school year begins July 1st and ends June 30th for all purposes within this section. […]
  2. Parents who determine to commence home instruction after the start of the school year, or who establish residence in the school district after the start of the school year, shall provide written notice of their intention to educate their child at home within 14 days following the commencement of home instruction within the school district.
  3. For the 1988-89 school year only, the written notice of intention to instruct at home required in paragraph (1) of this subdivision shall be due on August 1, 1988.

Years ago, Elsa Haas (director of PAHSI) and someone in the New York City Central Office of Home Schooling were talking about myriad things, and that person (new to all this, and seeming a little alarmed), said, “By the time July 2nd comes around, all the parents who’ve homeschooled the previous year are already out of compliance for the next school year!”

Elsa replied that since a parent has to file a new letter/s of intent each year, the phrase “parents who determine to commence home instruction” (in paragraph 2, above) can be read to apply to those parents who have just completed a year (or many years) of homeschooling – not just to parents who are completely new to it. So, for everybody, the deadline is July 1st only if you’ve made your decision by July 1st. (Caution: parents whose kids get special education services will need to be aware of any special deadline on applying for those, because that part is something PAHSI doesn’t know much about.)

Elsa also pointed out that some parents want to keep as many doors open to their kids as possible, as long as possible – including the door that leads to school – so they deliberately avoid sending in the letter of intent to homeschool until after the school year has begun (at all feasible schools in the area, both public and private) and it’s obvious their kids aren’t going.

He seemed relieved to hear this explanation, and we hope certain parents will be, too.

This coming school year (2013-14), the first day of public school in NYC is September 9. In other parts of the state, there are other first days. And, of course, private schools may have their own schedules.

So the answer to the question, “What’s the deadline for the letter of intent?” is really:

Two weeks after the last day on which, if you had to explain why your child isn’t in school to someone official who is standing on your doorstep (for example, because of a complaint to child protective services by a neighbor or relative), you could reasonably claim that you were still deciding about homeschooling.

Now that we’ve got that settled, here are three reasons you might choose to send your letter of intent by July 1st instead of in the fall: 

  • You might want to get something (beyond the legal protection afforded by complying with the Regulations) from whatever office you file your paperwork with. What that might be will vary from place to place across NYS. If you’ve already filed homeschool paperwork in the past and you still have an info packet, you might want to look back over it and remind yourself of anything that you got and that you appreciated having. If this is your first time filing, you might want to ask someone who files with the same office what’s available locally (join a local homeschooling email list or support group if you don’t already belong to one). Just remember that the office you file with is basically required by the Regulations only to process your paperwork (thus giving you legal protection). Whatever other thing they might do for you may be governed by other deadlines or none at all, so if you don’t file by July 1st they may not get around to helping you out until later on. And it’s busy season in the fall!
  • Likewise, you might want to file earlier rather than later because you understand that the office you file with is under a lot of pressure in the fall, and you want to make things go smoothly for them – and by extension for your fellow homeschoolers. It doesn’t help anybody when the office people feel harried and get impossibly behind, and we all know staffing is tight these days. (But don’t feel obligated on our account – you’re free to choose the later deadline if you really want to, for whatever reason.)
  • If you live in NYC (or possibly other places in NYS – we’re not sure about that); if this isn’t your first year homeschooling; and if you want any grade level other than “the next one up” for your child for the coming school year, then you also might want to file earlier rather than later. This is because at some point (the date isn’t set in stone), the director of the NYC Central Office of Home Schooling tells a computer person in another department that it’s time to bump all the homeschooled kids up by one grade level – except for the exceptions. If you miss that bump-up moment, it can be complicated to undo this “promotion.” (It’s not impossible, though – there is an established procedure laid out in federal law and in NYC regulations for correcting inaccuracies in a child’s educational records.) So if your child made adequate academic progress according to the criteria of the Regulations, and if the annual assessment indicates that fact, but if you nevertheless need more time to decide whether to repeat or skip a grade, you might want to tell the office this, and/or include a very visible note about it with the fourth quarterly report and the annual assessment. Again, you’re not required to file as early as July 1st – we just want you to know that this annoying computer thing can make things complicated, in certain cases, if you don’t. So it’s probably in your best interest to communicate early with the people who handle your paperwork.          

On the other hand, one reason for sending your letter/s of intent in the fall instead of by July 1st is that this may give you more time to write your IHIP (Individualized Home Instruction Plan), whose deadline is supposed to depend on when you get a reply that includes a copy of the Regulations and an IHIP form/s.

We’re saying “may give you more time” instead of “will give you more time” because some offices that process homeschool paperwork in fact routinely miss their deadline for replying to letters of intent, in which case you might get your reply in the fall or later, just like everybody else in your area, even if you try to get the ball rolling in July.

Again, you might want to ask around locally (preferably other parents rather than the office, at least to begin with) to find out what kind of time frame is customary. Point #13 in “How the Homeschool Regulations Really Work” (the same document we referenced above) addresses more generally what to do when the office you send paperwork to misses its own deadlines.

If you’re reading this blog post in future years (we’re writing it in June of 2013), and if June has not yet even come, you might want to think twice about being an eager beaver and popping that letter of intent into the mail right away. Sometimes when parents send in a letter of intent for the following school year too early, it can be mistaken for a letter of intent for the last bit of the current year – or it can be put into a stack of things to deal with later, and end up going missing.

If you’re reading this blog post sometime in the future because you’re taking your child out of school, please don’t be confused by what’s written here – you can do so at any time (you most definitely don’t have to “wait until the fall” or “wait until next semester”, as some ill-informed schools will tell you). We’re just focusing in this blog post on parents who never send their kids to school in the first place, or who choose to have them complete the school year before beginning to homeschool – it’s a “June Panic” blog post.   

Finally, for more on letters of intent, see the blog post “How to Write a Letter of Intent”, posted on 03/11/2013.