What is a Non-Traditional Private School?
What exactly is a 'non-traditional private school' or an 'umbrella school' anyway? The short answer is that it is a Department of Education recognized private school that handles the paperwork for home educated students.
In the state of Florida, home educated students have two legal ways in which to school at home. One is by signing up with the school superintendent for the county that you live in and the other is by using a non-traditional private school (also known as an umbrella school). I will go through both ways for you so that you can be clear about the differences.
When you decide to go the route of signing up under the county, you will send a letter of intent to homeschool to the school superintendent. Your letter must (and should only) include: the name of each child (6-16 years old), birthdate of each child named, address, and a parent's signature. There is no official form, but there is a sample on most homeschool support group websites and also one on the FPEA website (www.fpea.com). Make a copy of that letter for yourself, then send the original to the superintendent's office by certified mail, return receipt requested. When you get the receipt, staple it to your copy and put it in your child's file.
You will also maintain a portfolio of records. This basically means that you keep up with what you are doing that is educational while you are doing it (a planner or a calendar is what most people use, some use a journal or scrapbook). By law, you must keep a reading list, but all other subjects are up to you. Your portfolio should include a few samples of worksheets/writing/pictures of work from each subject from the beginning of the year, the middle of the year, and the end of the year. You do not need to put every piece of paper that your child touches into the portfolio.
You have to submit your portfolio for inspection within 15 days written notice by the superintendent. If you happen to get one of these notices, do not take your child - do take a homeschooling friend - and take your portfolio. The superintendent can only check to see if you are keeping the portfolio correctly, they cannot tell you what curriculum to use or evaluate the child's work.
You also have to submit an annual evaluation for each child to the superintendent. What this means is that once a year, your child has to be evaluated to see if he or she is 'progressing commensurate with his or her abilities'. Most homeschool support groups have a list of homeschool friendly teachers who do evaluations (they have to be done by a Florida state certified teacher). Most teachers charge around $25 to $30 to do an evaluation. You can also have your child take a nationally normed achievement test or state student assessment test as a form of evaluation. Most people will have the portfolio evaluation or have their child take a nationally normed achievement test. The evaluator or test giver will give a piece of paper with their signature on it to you for the school. Again, you would make a copy of it and send it certified, return receipt requested.
You have to preserve your portfolio for two years. Most of us keep them forever - legally, it's two years.
When your child graduates, if you move out of the county, or if you put your child into a public or private school (including an umbrella school), then you would need to send a notice of termination of your homeschooling program. It would include the same information as the notice of intent and again, make a copy for yourself and send the original certified, return receipt requested.
If you decide to go the route of homeschooling under a non-traditional private school, or 'umbrella' school, you would not notify the county at all if you are just starting out. You would just sign up with whatever school you choose to go with. Most of these schools serve all counties in Florida, so you would be able to choose from quite a number of them.
When you sign up with a private school, the state sees your child as a private school student, not a homeschooler - even though you are still homeschooling. Different private schools have different policies. The state dictates very few for us. Here is what is common to all of us:
You will have to sign up with the child's name, birth date, address, and parent's name. Most private schools will also ask for the parent's email address and phone number and the child's grade level. The private school will need a copy of the child's birth certificate, the health form for school (or waiver), and the immunization form (or waiver). At the end of the year, the school will require a record of attendance for the child showing at least 180 days attended.
Some schools will require significantly more than that, some don't. Some charge fees, a few don't, and the fees vary in range. Some schools are accredited and some are not. I've answered every question that I can think of regarding the private school option, including a pros and cons list of one vs the other on my FAQ page.
Cheerful Heart Academy only requires the basics that the state requires (copy of birth certificate, health and immunization forms or waivers, attendance showing 180/365 days) and $25 per year for the first student and $15 for any siblings. Of course, I ask for an enrollment form to be filled out as well that asks for name, address, grade level, etc. As a private school, I have to fill out an annual survey that tells the state how many students I have, how many teachers I have and what grade levels my students are. They do not get names, addresses, or even the attendance records that I am required to keep. I do not review curriculum or portfolios, nor do I provide transcripts or diplomas - although I'll be happy to talk to you about any of those things and help you through the processes any time.
I hope that I've helped to clarify just what an umbrella school, or Non-Traditional Private School, is. If you ever have questions about the school, or homeschooling in Florida, please don't hesitate to call or email.